One way to set your child up for a lifetime of good health is to nurture their immune system. The most surefire way to do so, believe it or not, is their gut health!
Your child’s (and everyone else’s) microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria that are part of the gastrointestinal tract.
These tiny bacteria actually help to control the immune system! They regulate weight gain and metabolism, allergic reactions, how well they will fight off a cold or a virus, and even mood and mental health! A study published recently linked a greater diversity of the microbiota to higher ratings of positive emotions and extroversion in both boys and girls! Now, who doesn’t want a happy baby?
So why the sense of urgency?
The human microbiome is a product of lifestyle and environment and is molded easiest during infancy and childhood, so that is why it is SUPER important to take action and act during these early years of your child’s life. Once they reach school age, the general makeup of their microbiome is pretty set and remains that way for possibly the rest of their lives!
It’s a good thing nurturing your children’s gut can be very simple.
Below are a few tips and tricks:
Don’t overdo sterilizing their whole environment.
I know, it sounds scary because as parents we just want to protect our children, however, when we sanitize everything, we also keep them from getting any good bacteria (yes there is such a thing!). By increasing your child’s exposure to bacteria in general, it helps maintain their developing immune system. Don’t use hand sanitizer in excess, and try using natural cleaning and laundry products instead of those containing bleach and toxic chemicals. Don’t get me wrong, washing hands before any mealtime is a must, but learn to find a balance and exercise some restraint.
Also, don’t be afraid to let your children play with their pets! Seeing your dog lick your baby’s face should ease your anxiety knowing that it exposes your child to beneficial bacteria they carry. (A study even showed children who grow up exposed to dogs are less likely to develop asthma in their childhood).
If you have a garden, let them garden with you and play, as it exposes them to bacteria from soil and animals. Let them dig, and help you gather your veggies with their bare hands (not letting them put their hands in their mouth of course).
2. Give them probiotics!
This can’t be stressed enough. Probiotics ARE the good bacteria that populate your gut, so the more, the merrier! Taking them can really help reduce the frequency of illness. There are probiotics that are specific to every age group,
including infancy, so start them young! Avoid probiotics full of artificial colors/flavors/ and sugars and opt for companies who are reputable in natural products. The higher CFU count, the better, so go for probiotics that have 5 billion or more!
Include probiotic foods in the diet as well! Foods that contain live and active cultures include many yogurts, fermented dairy drinks like kefir, non-dairy probiotic drinks, miso, and other fermented veggies such as unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi. Shop smart and read labels as many yogurts made for kids contain a ton of sugar. If children are skeptical about eating these foods, set a good example, as they are more likely to try them if you are eating them too! (and they have great benefits for everyone).
3. The good bacteria need fuel too.
The good bacteria in the gut and the probiotics grow and develop on dietary fiber (found
in plants). What makes it important to feed the good bacteria in the gut, is that if you don’t, it will start eating the mucus lining that protects the lining of the intestines! If bacteria get through these protective walls, they can affect your child’s immune system and result in inflammation that can lead to a load of autoimmune disorders, allergies, and asthma.
Be conscious of what you feed your children and be sure to include plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and legumes that will nourish the microbiome. You can also give your children PREbiotics which are food for the probiotics!
Find creative ways to introduce these foods into your child’s diet that can combine foods they love with foods that are good for them. Make it fun! Dip their veggies in hummus, give them avocado toast on whole grain bread, add black beans to their rice, and replace chips and other processed snack foods with fruits like grapes and apples (leave the skin on).
4. If antibiotics are not 100% necessary, avoid them as much as possible.
There is always a time and place for antibiotics, as sometimes they can be life saving, and there is nothing you can do about that. Just remember that antibiotics do have side effects! Their main function is to kill bacteria, however they cannot distinguish between the good and bad bacteria and go on a killing spree to destroy the good parts of the microbiome too. This kind of damage can really have a long term effect on your child’s health.
it is more important than ever that parents and pediatricians reserve antibiotics only for illnesses for which they are necessary.
It is therefore SO important that parents and pediatricians save antibiotics only for illnesses that absolutely require them.
Remember, antibiotics are only effective for bacteria and NOT viruses, so taking them for the flu or any other viral illness is ineffective and will only destroy the gut biome.
If antibiotics are a must, be sure to take a course of probiotics and eat a gut health promoting diet before, during and even after taking the antibiotics. Also remember to finish the whole course of antibiotics to ensure their full effect and prevent the bacteria building resistance.
Two great signs that what you’re doing is working is if your children are rarely sick and if (when they do get sick) their illnesses never last for long periods of time. Supporting the gut diversity with the handful of tips we suggest and building lifelong habits that include plenty of outdoor play, healthy eating, avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, and getting lots of sleep will guarantee a healthy and happy toddler!