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A Healthy Immune System Begins With Mom

From pregnancy, to birth and beyond, mom plays a leading role in a baby’s immune health.

Mom and her young daughter
Apr 19 2018

We owe a lifetime of thank yous to moms. But, one thing you may have never thought of to thank her for — a healthy gut!

A healthy gut can help to boost your immunity, prevent disease, improve your mood, and even your skin. And, although you can improve your gut health by eating a healthy diet, taking probiotics, and exercising — it's our mothers who we have to thank for giving us a strong start to a healthy immunity.

Not only does the foundation for our gut health start in the womb, but the microbiome develops and is diversified from the moment we’re born and well into our childhood — all impacting our immunity for many years to come.

Rachael Buck, PhD, Abbott’s lead research scientist and resident gut health expert has been studying the impact the microbiome has on the developing immune system of babies for the past two decades.

Here, Buck provides three ways moms help their own children build a strong foundation for a healthy gut, for a lifelong impact on their health. 

1.     During Pregnancy
Emerging research shows that a mother's gut microbiota undergo natural changes as pregnancy progresses. According to a study published in the journal Cell, the microbiota become less diverse; anti-inflammatory, butyrate-producing bacteria decline; and inflammation-associated bacteria increase—which researchers say, is actually beneficial during pregnancy because these changes in the microbiome promote energy storage in fat tissue and help support the growth of the fetus.

What's more—scientists have found that intestinal bacteria from the mother colonize the infant shortly after birth, indicating that mothers serve as an important source of intestinal bacteria for vaginally-delivered infants.                        

TIP: Pregnancy cravings have you reaching for sweets? Opt for something healthy instead, and do your best to stick to a diverse diet that consists of plenty of fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes—and probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir. The benefits of a healthy diet are not only good for you—it's good for your growing baby as well! 

A pregnant woman sitting

2.     After Birth

When your baby is born, his body is colonized by trillions of microorganisms, both from you and from the surrounding environment. And, just as every child is unique and special—the microbes you pass along to him during birth are as well.

The types of microbes you pass along to your child depend on your own personal collection of microbes, where your child is born, and the type of delivery you have. In addition, your baby will pick up microbes from every surface he comes in contact with during the first days of life. One of those surfaces is you, mom.

Skin-to-skin contact soon after birth promotes nursing and helps establish milk supply, and breast milk itself aids in building a healthy gut.

Human milk oligosaccharides* (HMOs)—prebiotics that make up about 10 percent of breast milk—are degraded by the bacteria in a baby’s large intestine which means that breast milk actually feeds the bacteria in the baby’s gut. Until now, HMOs have only been found at significant levels in breast milk, but with Similac® with 2’-FL HMO,* parents feeding with infant formula can provide some of the same benefits for their babies.

TIP: Do you know the feeling of wanting to snuggle your baby all day? It's natural—and it's beneficial to his health! To help boost your baby’s gut microbiota, get as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, especially in the first 24 hours—which is a critical time for passing along immunity-boosting bacteria from mom to baby. 

Baby sleeping

3.     In Early Childhood

Between 4 and 6 months when babies start to eat solid foods, the microbes in the gut start to diversify and look more like an adult’s. The toddler years are an ideal time to optimize your baby’s gut health through diet because the gut microbiota stays fairly the same throughout his lifetime.

TIP: For the moms who say "eat your broccoli"—you were right! After you have introduced solid foods—one at a time—to your growing toddler, offer a variety of nutritious foods including eggs, legumes like lentils, beans, and peas, vegetables and fruits, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips, squash and yucca, whole grains like oats, rice, barley and quinoa, and probiotic-rich gut foods like yogurt and kefir.

The microbes your children pick up from playing outdoors and exploring nature are beneficial for their gut as well. In fact, studies show that safe interaction with pets can change the composition and diversity of the microbes in a child's gut and may even reduce his risk for asthma and eczema.

Don't be afraid to get dirty! Another way to help build a healthy gut when your child is young is to expose them to the outdoors and to pets. Let your kids spend time playing in the dirt and on the playground. Doing so exposes them to more bacteria and supports the growth of a strong, healthy immune system.

Laughing baby boy

All of this to say—moms do so much to help keep children healthy from day one and every day—so much of which is passed along to baby without even knowing it. Keep up the great work, and mom: thank you.

*not from human milk

Want to Learn More?

  • Read about the impact of nutrition on the gut and microbiome, here.

  • Learn more about how to keep your gut healthy at every age, here

  • Learn more about prebiotics like human milk ogliosaccharides, here
*Similac with HMO was introduced in the U.S. in 2016, and will be introduced in several international markets throughout 2017 and 2018 – as the first and only formula with 2'-FL HMO, an immune-nourishing prebiotic that was previously only found at significant levels in breast milk. 
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