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Four Facts to Help You Build Baby’s Immune System with Probiotics
The early weeks with a new baby can seem like a whirlwind of chapped nipples and poopy diapers. You may be sleep deprived, but you know it’s never too early to support your little one’s developing immune system, which is a very good thing because that is exactly when it matters most! Many factors contribute to the development of baby’s immune system, but one REALLY BIG one, is baby’s gut microbiome. Baby’s microbiome is made up of all the microorganisms that live in and on her body. The highest concentration of these bugs live in her intestines and play a major role in nearly every aspect of keeping her happy and healthy. Microbiome science is also in its infancy, so your family, friends, and favorite mommy bloggers may not be up to date on how you can help build baby’s microbiome and immune system for lifelong health. Here are four facts you’ll be glad to know, to help keep you informed and your baby’s healthy development on track.
Fact #1: Bacteria and germs actually HELP build baby’s immune system.
If you don’t understand how the immune system is established during infant development, then keeping baby away from germs seems like a good idea. But, there’s this idea, called the Hygiene Hypothesis, that suggests frequent exposure to microbes during early infancy is necessary for healthy development. Furthermore, science and medicine understand that the first six months of life is considered the critical window in infant development, especially with respect to establishing baby’s immune system. During this very short window of time you lend baby your immune system through breastmilk while baby’s own immune system is hard at work learning to properly identify between friend and foe. If baby isn’t introduced to enough germs during the critical window, when baby’s system is later challenged with something foreign, but harmless, her body won’t know how to properly react, so it will overreact. Welcome to the age of allergies, my friends!
But what can you actually do? If baby lives with siblings or pets, she will get plenty of exposure to these marvelous microbes naturally. If not, establish an exposure routine to ensure baby is being introduced to new germs. Passing her around to your loved ones and letting her play in the dirt as she gets a little older is recommended. And, yes- clean your house, but sterilizing every surface every day is too much for the typical household. Another way to influence the health of your baby’s microbiome, and ultimately their overall health, is with a quality probiotic, as some probiotic strains have been shown to help recruit an abundance of other good bacteria as well.
Fact #2: Not all probiotics have been scientifically shown to benefit baby’s health, so choose wisely.
Probiotic products contain different probiotic strains or sometimes blends of strains. There are MANY probiotics to choose from and, unfortunately, NOT many ways to know if you’re buying a quality product or not. So, how do you choose a quality probiotic for your little one? Flip the box over and check out the supplement facts. You should see a very unmemorable Latin name, but look closer. How many parts make up that name? Hopefully three. Remember, probiotic benefits are strain-specific, so it’s important that the strain designation, that third part of the name, is present on the supplement facts. For example, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is the most scientifically studied probiotic out thereƗ and that third name, “GG,” tells you that. If the supplement facts only list Lactobacillus rhamnosus, enough information hasn’t been provided to know if the product contains a quality probiotic strain, as not all Lactobacillus rhamnosus have been shown to support human health to the same extent. Here’s another tip- Pay closer attention and you’ll notice some brands are SUPER proud of their strain. Companies with quality strains go out of their way to tell you so on their packaging and in their advertising.
The scientific community determines the quality of a probiotic strain (or blend) by analyzing the results of human clinical trials and the rigor of scientific support for each strain varies. A few probiotic strains have been studied in hundreds of clinical trials, even some with nearly 100 clinical trials with infants, consistently demonstrating benefits in many areas of human health, and receive unofficial stamps of approval and recommendations for specific health issues. On the other hand, many probiotics aren’t supported by a single clinical trial, for any age. It’s confusing, which is why there is so much contradictory advice going around about probiotics.
Fact #3: If baby’s only source of probiotics is formula she may not consume enough during the critical window of development.
As the microbiome becomes more and more appreciated for the rock star that it is, it’s not surprising that many infant formulas contain probiotics these days. It IS surprising how difficult it is to figure out which probiotic, and how much, has been added. Without this information, you can’t tell if baby is consuming an amount that’s been shown to be beneficial in infant clinical trials. You already know the strain matters, but so does the amount baby consumes each day. If your baby’s probiotics are coming from formula, they’re likely to consume much less during very early infancy, when baby eats a lot less, than they will closer to six or 12 months of age when they’re consuming about liter of formula a day. Select probiotic strains are effective in different daily amounts, but baby might not reach that amount if their only probiotic source is formula. This is especially important during the critical window when a quality probiotic can be the most effective.
Even if baby’s formula does contain probiotics, if you want to know which and how much probiotic your little one consumes each day, a quality probiotic supplement will always provide this information in the supplement facts. Supplementing with a probiotic strain, like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, helps build and support baby’s microbiome and immune system, especially during the critical window of development.
Fact #4: Probiotics should be taken every. single. day.
I know, I know, but hear me out!
Nearly every probiotic clinical trial, regardless of age, instructs participants to take the probiotic every single day. The benefits are based on consistent, daily supplementation. That’s really the only “catch” about probiotics, you have to take them every day. If you accidentally miss a day here and there, no worries, but the on again, off again, we remember for a week, forget for three weeks approach isn’t helping your little one.
Development takes time. Consistency is key here, especially to build baby’s immune system for lifelong health. Be intentional, choose a probiotic you trust, and stick with it every day! Your baby’s health is worth it!
Ɨ Based on the number of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG clinical studies, as of January 2020.
1. Strachan, D.P., Hay fever, hygiene, and household size. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 1989. 299(6710): p. 1259-1260.
2. Castanys-Munoz, E., M.J. Martin, and E. Vazquez, Building a Beneficial Microbiome from Birth. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 2016. 7(2): p. 323-330.
3. Saxelin, M., et al., Persistence of probiotic strains in the gastrointestinal tract when administered as capsules, yoghurt, or cheese. International journal of food microbiology, 2010. 144(2): p. 293-300.