Research has shown that early exposure to a diverse amount of microbes is extremely beneficial for supporting the development of a healthy immune system in children. Also, research has linked imbalances in gut microbiota, lack of early exposure to microbes, and overuse of antibiotics to result in a higher likelihood of children developing allergies, asthma, eczema, obesity, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There have also been studies finding a link between altered gut bacteria in people with Depression, Anxiety, Autism Spectrum Disorders and ADHD and finding improvements in symptoms when given probiotics. However, this is still controversial and research was held in small test groups causing a need for larger studies to be conducted. There was also the article I posted last week, stating a correlation between missing microbes and cancer development in children. The evidence is clear - early exposure to microbes and fostering the growth of good gut flora need to start during pregnancy and is crucial especially in the first few years of life. This early intervention lays the groundwork for a healthy childhood and carries forward into the future. What you can do as a parent is to help increase your child's exposure to beneficial microbes and help feed and nurture healthy intestinal flora:
Eating lots of high fibre foods, fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt are all beneficial. These will help to nourish the intestinal flora and avoid sugar. Also, if a mother is able to breastfeed it’s the way to go. Not only are antibodies passed through the mother’s milk but also microbiota that promotes a healthy digestive system in babies. However, if breastfeeding is something that you are unable to do consult a dietitian or doctor about probiotic supplements for your babies.
Let your children get dirty and play in nature.
Having a dog is very beneficial. They bring microbes into the house that your children will pick up, in addition to the bacteria transferred from the dog’s saliva.
Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. There are times when antibiotics are necessary, however, they can be overprescribed and often for the wrong thing. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. They do not work in the case of viral infections, like the flu.
Avoid antibacterial products like hand soaps, dish soaps, cleaning products, and hand sanitizers. They kill beneficial microbes and can create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Have a vaginal birth. However, if it comes down to a safety issue for mother and baby and a c-section is necessary, talk to your healthcare provider about a method called “seeding”. Also, see if it is possible for antibiotics to be administered to the mother after a cesarean birth, so it won’t affect the baby. Find out if your healthcare provider will be administering an antibiotic ointment in the eyes of your newborn. This practice is only necessary if the mother has an STD like gonorrhea or chlamydia to prevent blindness in the child.
All information for this article came from the book “Let Them Eat Dirt” Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World, by B. Brett Finlay, PhD. and Marie-Claire Arrieta, PhD. I would suggest reading it if you are looking for more in-depth knowledge on this topic.