When my first was born, I was adamant that not only was “breast best,” but that it had to be sufficient, 100%.
There was no way my baby could need supplementation, I thought.
I cried and cried, wracking sobs, when we were told we “had” to supplement with formula.
I was so stubborn.
I think I only gave him an ounce and a half or so, not even enough to drag his skinny little body anywhere near back to his birth weight, and I just kept nursing, and nursing, and nursing.
I didn’t even realize that he was napping more than nursing, comforting more than sucking.
Looking back, I’m probably lucky that he made it through and that my body and his finally got in sync on the whole nourishment equation.
He’s still the skinniest kid you’ll ever see (at age ten, the bathing suit he put on today is a size 6-7) but is healthy and has a great appetite for both healthy and, much to his mother’s chagrin, unhealthy foods.
It’s a good thing my own mother wasn’t so stubborn, and that a neighbor had the guts to tell her she was worried about newborn Katie’s health – when she finally took me in, I was nearly starved and suffering from water intoxication from the bottles of water my mom had been instructed to give me after each nurse. (Sigh.)
She kept trying for a while along with the formula, but it wasn’t meant to be.
How to Get the Best Start with Babies’ Gut Health
We talk a lot about healing the gut for adults, but here at Kitchen Stewardship, we prefer prevention whenever possible. If you are expecting or will be someday, try to focus on these strategies to give baby the best gut health start possible:
- No antibiotics at birth
- Breastfeed early
- If C-section, consider infant probiotics – even a “perfect” birth doesn’t guarantee healthy gut flora for baby
- Be patient and wait to introduce solids until at least 6 months and when baby has signs that s/he is ready for food, although exposures to food is great between 4-6 months. Surprised? I was too! Here’s why.
- Watch carefully for sensitivities (rash around mouth, diaper rash, etc.) and remove those foods again. Often the child will be able to eat them when they’re older.
- Avoid high allergenic foods (the “top 8”).
What About Vitamins for Babies?
Beyond “supplementing” with formula, which hopefully is a last resort but necessary for many mamas (even though I still hate that ounce and a half my eldest consumed, that’s just my mommy guilt ringing in heavy), do babies need supplemental vitamins or nutrients that aren’t available in breastmilk? (By the way, when formula is necessary, some are able to use a homemade baby formula, but it’s a big commitment.)
The most commonly recommended by pediatricians is, and I was also stubbornly opposed to that for my first three children.
Whether I’ve been beaten down or just convinced at this point, Gabe IS receiving a Vitamin D drop (nearly) daily for a couple of reasons:
- My new family doctor had a brand that had zero other ingredients and was not colored, so no bibs or staining practically and no ingredients I wouldn’t allow past his lips nutritionally.
- I keep reading from reputable sources that breastmilk is not a good carrier of Vitamin D.
- He was my first baby born in the winter, so his own chances of sun exposure were zilch.
- My own Vitamin D was below the recommended level, even with fermented cod liver oil regularly in my diet. So if my levels were too low, even IF some got through in my breastmilk, it wasn’t going to cut it.
And I’m dealing with it okay, a good reminder to be humble and not ride on the coattails of my own (old) research and past decisions, which are sometimes emotionally based and not always perfect (gasp!).
This would be a good opportunity to remind you that I am neither a doctor nor medically trained, and any actions you might take after reading this post, which is full of opinions, some sources, and some personal experience, not advice – are your responsibility.
Baby’s Delicate Microbiome
The stage is set.
You know my first babies had nothing but breastmilk for the first six months, and after that they certainly didn’t have vitamins or supplements of any kind with their limited food intake, until I start a little FCLO intermittently around 18 mos. or older, depending on the kid.
You might also know that my whole family takes one supplement every single day, the only one we are 100% regular with (ok…we’re human…it’s probably about 95% of the time actually).
I take them…but does the baby need them too?
With all the foods that my normal probiotic (or “probie” as our 3-year-old dubbed it when he learned to talk) includes, I haven’t given any to him because I still do adhere to the “introduce only one food at a time” philosophy to be able to watch for food sensitivities, and we haven’t yet started homemade yogurt (I typically wait for dairy until at least 8 months).
Plus, until recently I would have stubbornly said that OF COURSE breastmilk gives him every darn thing he needs! It’s nature’s perfect food!
But…when I read Lydia’s pointed article about the “5 Reasons American Kids Aren’t Healthy Today” I have to consider that I can’t do anything about the quality of the soil, the fact that I was formula-fed and grew up with margarine, white sugar, and some processed stuff in the midst of my mom’s amazing homemade food, and my general lack of sleep + baby’s terrible sleep habits.
We’re going to deal with those effects for a lifetime.
In spite of my efforts in the kitchen, in spite of the mostly excellent nutrition we provide here at the Kimball house…life ain’t perfect. I have to be open to the fact that even my kids might need some rebalancing. Can you hear the hubris just dripping?
And today we’re focusing on the very sensitive microbiome, of primary importance for our digestion, our immune system, and our overall health.
Could these tiny babes in arms actually be in need of probiotics as well, a little something to make sure their resident bacteria are setting up shop properly? And if so, what kind is safe for infants?
Here are five reasons you might want to consider a probiotic supplement for your little one:
1. Antibiotic Treatment
Antibiotics are very common in hospital births, both for moms who are Group B Strep positive as a preventative measure and for a variety of other reasons. Antibiotics during pregnancy are also of concern. Antibiotics even interfere with the effectiveness of probiotics, sadly (source).
This study discusses the massive importance of getting the microbiome right in the first few years and this one confirms that antibiotic use both in pregnancy or the child’s first year of life can alter the microbiome so much that the child has a far greater risk of obesity – 84% higher! Much research is now finding that the proper gut flora impacts weight gain, and it may be the cause of obesity in many people who just ‘can’t seem to lose the weight.’
It seems like a no-brainer to me that if baby or mother is given antibiotics during pregnancy, labor, or infancy/breastfeeding, that taking care of rebuilding the microbiome is of primary importance.
2. C-section births
The study mentioned above also found that C-sections resulted in a 46-percent higher risk of childhood obesity, controlled for maternal age, ethnicity, birth weight, sex, breastfeeding in the first year, and gestational antibiotics or delivery mode.
And this one found that “infants born through C-section had lower total microbiota diversity during the first 2 years of life,” as well as a less active immune response. The immune response may be related to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s Disease (source) and Celiac (source).
C-sections are likely to result in different flora vs. vaginal delivery in part because of the baby’s lack of exposure to mom’s flora in the birth canal (which calls into question the expedient births I have, to be honest!).
3. If mom has imbalanced flora at baby’s birth
This study demonstrates that probiotic supplementation in mothers during pregnancy can impact the baby as it grows, so it certainly makes sense that whatever gut imbalance mom might have would be passed on as well.
Another demonstration of the relationship between gut flora and the mother-fetal-infant relationship underlines the obesity link again, and although I haven’t read the full study, the references are many and fascinating.
How do we know if mom has balanced flora or not? Because of the relative insufficiency of the soil of our age and our culture’s lack of reliance on probiotic foods beyond the occasional yogurt, I’d gander that it’s more likely you’re unbalanced than not. If mom experiences any of the following, she (and baby) might benefit from probiotics:
- constipation (going less than once a day especially, but even “regular” once a day if the stools are a 1-3 on the Bristol stool chart above (more info here on that)
- eczema or skin issues
- IBS symptoms
- type 6-7 stool from the chart indicates too-fast digestion too
- candida symptoms or recurrent yeast infections
- and I’m sure many more…
Can you just eat more fermented foods?
Sure. Catherine Clinton, ND, founder of WellFuture, shared this with me via email:
I still think that fermented foods, especially if made at home, are one of the cornerstones of health. I’ve been using our extra scobies in the compost and our garden is going crazy this year. I wish I could find some research about how that could transform our food and health…
And the food is good…but it may or may not be enough, depending on the other factors.
4. Formula Feeding
As much as formula makers have tried to mimic breastmilk, they haven’t gotten all the pieces yet, as demonstrated by this study which found that “breast-fed newborns have been demonstrated to carry a more stable and uniform population [of microbiota] when compared to the formula-fed ones.”
In fact, when breastfed infants are supplemented with just a small amount of formula and when they begin solid foods, their microbiome begins to shift more toward the (less desirable) formula-fed pattern. But luckily, supplementation with probiotics has also been shown in the same study to mitigate some of those negative effects.
5. Let’s talk Poop, Picky eating, Perfection, and Pain
Moms, sometimes you have to go with your gut.
If your gut says that something is not ideal with your baby’s digestion, either because of irregular or painful bowel movements, picky eating (for you or them), belly pain or perhaps colic symptoms, it’s not much of a leap to wonder if probiotics might help.
We live in an imperfect world, and I would guess that none of us eat a perfect diet across the board. (I don’t!!)
To make up for gaps in nutrition, genetics, soil health, the environment, and lifestyle, a supplemental probiotic is something that may help the body lay the foundation for good health throughout all of life. The early seeding of healthy bacteria is that important – not that we can’t make a good impact on our microbiome as adults, but the first five years are a window of opportunity that can’t quite be compensated for fully later on.
What probiotic to use for baby???
Because of the care taken in the formulation of WellBelly, a powdered probiotic especially for infants and young children, I don’t hesitate to recommend it.
Each ingredient is explained with peer-reviewed sources, and I really appreciate the focus on a young child’s digestive tract.
You can read more about the thought behind WellBelly in question 3 of this great interview with Catherine Clinton, founder of WellFuture. Every strain of probiotics has been carefully thought out for an infant (and what’s NOT in there is just as intentional).
A reader asked me the other day on Facebook when I shared about WellBelly if I was giving it to our littlest one, Gabe. My response was that I wasn’t, only because he isn’t really eating food yet and we don’t use bottles at all, so I had no way of administering it to him.
I was a little startled by the question, and that plus writing this post has gotten me thinking.
Gabe has always had strange digestion. In fact, we were in the ER at four days of life with him because he hadn’t had a bowel movement in 48 hours.
He was fine, but he pretty much had only one or two poops a week for the next three or four months.
Then, rather suddenly, he switched to a morning BM quite consistently. One a day, within an hour of waking.
His first bite of food changed that!
Makes sense, now that I’ve read some of the research cited above, but even without the study to prove it I hypothesized that something about food had permanently altered his digestion (now I’d say gut flora) because his poo changed in smell and consistency for about two days after two bites of egg yolk.
He now goes days again without a BM.
And I saw too much of myself in the posts about adrenal fatigue that we’ve been sharing recently.
Perhaps I’m resting on my real food laurels a bit much again. Will I learn my lesson and get this kid on WellBelly soon?
Let’s cut the excuses – I’ve read a tip before that a little finger dipped in probiotic powder could easily get some into an infant, but I conveniently forgot that.
I don’t think it would be a difficult thing to add to our morning routine since we’re already giving the other kids probiotics anyway.
Why leave Gabe out?
Now that you’ve heard all about our family’s poop…how’s yours?