The early years of a child’s life are an absolutely crucial time for the formation and development of their microbiome.
The human microbiome is made up of microbes that live on and inside us, mostly in our gut, and it’s unique to each of us, like a fingerprint.
We used to think these microbes were passengers just along for the ride but we now know they are so fundamental to how our body works that they are actually a part of who we are!
If the WRONG microbes get into our children’s gut in their early formative years, it can set them on a path of illness not only throughout their childhood but for the rest of their lives.
Our microbiome is a spectacular wonder of the natural world. It’s the unsung hero of the human body, keeping us strong, both mentally and physically.
When everything goes right, the development of a child’s microbiome is like wondrous poetry in motion that Mother Nature has been honing for thousands of generations! It works something like this:
- As a baby is born it picks up microbes during its passage through the mother’s birth canal. The mother’s microbiome has changed during pregnancy to prepare for this.
- Yes, the natural birth process is messy and icky but this is exactly what the baby needs, as it picks up the right bacteria to ‘seed’ its microbiome.
- It’s thought that baby’s immune system is deliberately dampened down slightly to allow these friendly bacteria to get established. This prevents the WRONG bacteria getting in there instead.
- Baby’s new microbiome is topped up several times a day through breastfeeding. Human breastmilk is the ultimate superfood containing a mix of friendly bacteria and special food for those specific bacteria. Again this prevents the wrong bacteria getting established and taking over. The good bacteria get fed via Mum’s milk and the bad ones starve.
- As the child transitions to solid food the microbiome moves into the next phase. Different friendly bacteria start to play a larger role, ready to support digestion of a wide variety of foods.
- Throughout this time the friendly bacteria are playing a crucial role in the development of baby’s metabolism, brain and immune system.
What Can Hijack A Child’s Microbiome?
There are a number of very common things that can upset this process, with potentially serious repercussions:
- Mum’s microbiome: baby takes most of its vital, first microbes from mum, so if her microbiome is ‘broken’, baby’s starting point will also be less than ideal.
- Caesarean births: studies show that babies born via C-section start off with random bacteria from the hospital, rather than the special ones from Mum. ‘Swabbing’ baby with microbes taken manually from Mum may help to counter this!
- Bottle feeding is unavoidable sometimes but manufacturers of formula milk are still nowhere near replicating the Mother-Nature-Genius of breastmilk.
- Antibiotics are, without question, absolutely vital at times but they come with a cost that is rarely discussed. Every dose of antibiotics is like a nuclear bomb going off inside a child’s (or adult’s) microbiome and it causes insidious long-term fallout, just like a nuclear explosion. Check out The Shocking Ways Antibiotics Can Destroy Your Health
- A bad diet of heavily processed food, too much sugar, processed carbohydrates, bad fats and empty calories. It doesn’t help that food manufacturers and junk food companies deliberately target our children and design their crap to be as appealing as possible to a kiddie’s palate.
Once a child is past infancy and onto solid food, in general the things that screw up their gut are the same things that screw up a adult’s gut, which I talk about more here Why Your Gut Is Broken
A child can easily get into a negative cycle of illness resulting from a damaged microbiomewhich leads to the doctors prescribing antibiotics, which causes more damage to the microbiome, which in turn weakens immunity and leads to yet more antibiotics being prescribed. This can trigger childhood (and lifelong) obesity, diabetes, autism, Attention Deficit Disorder and a life of ill-health.
Here’s the good news: the human microbiome can bounce back from even the worse start. Here are some steps you can take to reboot your kiddies’ gut bugs:
- Try to not have them take antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, while always being guided by your doctor. It’s a difficult balancing act for a parent as it’s scary when your child gets ill. The temptation to press your doctor for antibiotics is enormous. I personally haven’t taken antibiotics since 2013 when I started on my gut-fixing journey but as soon as my loved-ones are sick, I find myself thinking about antibiotics again.
- Introduce some fermented food into your kids’ diet and give it to them on a daily basis. Options like yogurt and kefir can be mild in flavour and appealing to children.
- Give them a probiotic daily. Specially formulated products for infants and toddlers are available. These have been shown to reduce common conditions like colic, diarrhea and eczema!
- Keep their diet as ‘clean’ as far as possible. The word ‘clean’ has been overused and abused to death but don’t lose sight of what it really means. I explain more here: Clean Eating: More Than Just An Elitist Fad Of course it doesn’t help that as soon as children get to school they trade the healthy items you carefully prepared for their lunchbox for some processed crap their buddies brought in, but we gotta try!
- Explain to them that we need to look after the little magic microbes inside us. Explain that these little invisible bacteria are our friends and that if we look after them they’ll keep us safe. Explain that it’s a bit like looking after a special pet.
- Set an example to them by eating the right foods!