Breastfeeding is an important way to give your baby both dense nutrition and physical comfort. Another benefit of breastfeeding is that the friendly bacteria that colonize a mother's gut is passed from a mother to a baby in breast milk. When a mother is taking probiotics, there is evidence that these “good bugs” can help to strengthen a baby's immune system and may be useful to treat or even prevent colic, allergies and atopic skin conditions like eczema.
The human body is home to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms with over 400 diverse bacterial species. You can support healthy gut bacteria by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kimchee, kombucha, kefir and miso. You can also take probiotics in supplement form including capsules, powder or liquid. The benefits of regularly taking probiotics are numerous and include protection of the gut from the “bad bugs,” along with preventing or treating leaky gut syndrome -- a condition when the intestinal barrier becomes permeable, potentially leading to the development of food allergies and autoimmune disorders. Healthy gut flora also plays an important role in digestion, regulates metabolism and makes up more than 75 percent of the immune system, according to acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine Chris Kresser.
Gut Health and Immunity in Breastfed Babies
Newborn babies rely almost exclusively on breast milk to provide immune protection from their environment, at least for the first few weeks of life. According to Dr. Alexander Rinehart, breastfeeding for the first weeks and months of a baby's life is an important way to ensure a healthy balance of friendly bacteria in baby's gut. Since the gut is the center of 60 to 70 percent of the immune system, inoculating a baby's gut with probiotics through breastfeeding is an important strategy to strengthen a baby's overall immune system. If a mother has gut dysbiosis -- gut flora that is out of balance -- then baby's gut will also be colonized with unfriendly bacteria. Taking probiotics is an excellent way for mom to strengthen her gut health and pass on these friendly bugs to her baby.
Probiotics to Prevent Eczema in Baby
Another benefit of taking probiotics during pregnancy and lactation is the reduction of diseases like eczema. A study published in the January 2002 issue of “Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology” found that administering probiotics to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers increased the immunoprotective potential of their breast milk. Scientists demonstrated that the probiotics increased an anti-inflammatory substance called transforming growth factor beta2 and is a safe way to reduce the risk of eczema in the first two years of life.
Probiotics and Colic
Colic is a common and rather mysterious problem for babies and new parents alike. Babies with colic have increased gut inflammation and less gut flora diversity, according to research published in the “Journal of Pediatrics” in December 2009. Taking probiotics while breastfeeding is one way to ensure that babies have a diverse healthy gut flora to prevent overgrowth of pro-inflammatory bacteria.
- Chris Kresser, L.Ac: 9 Steps to Perfect Health – #5: Heal Your Gut
- Dr. Alex Rinehart: The Important Role of Breastfeeding on Infant Gut Development
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: Probiotics During Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding Might Confer Immunomodulatory Protection Against Atopic Disease in the Infant
- The Journal of Pediatrics: Altered Fecal Microflora and Increased Fecal Calprotectin in Infants with Colic
Amy Myszko is a certified clinical herbalist and nutritional consultant who has been helping people find greater health and balance through diet, lifestyle and natural remedies since 2006. She received her certification from the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism in Boulder, Colo. Myszko also holds a BA in literature from the University of Colorado.