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Ask The Expert: Building Your Baby's Immune System

Newborn baby
Jul 10 2017

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 answers three common gut health questions she gets from parents and friends. 

Q. Why is the first year of life so critical to building immunity?

A.  A baby’s first year of life is a critical window for immune development. Seventy percent of our immune system is in the gut so it’s important that a baby gets important ingredients, like prebiotics, which are found in breast milk, to feed the beneficial bacteria.  When gut bacteria are properly nourished they are able to grow, diversify and multiply – all of which help to strengthen a baby’s immune system.

Video: What Are Human Milk Ogliosaccharides?

Q. What advice do you have for parents concerned about their child’s gut health?

A. A baby’s immune system develops rapidly early in life, and nutrition plays an important role in that development. For babies, the best nutrition is breast milk – and it will always be the gold standard due in part to the immune support it provides.

I encourage parents to breastfeed as long as possible. If you need to supplement or formula feed make sure you choose formulas that have human milk ogliosaccharides* (HMOs). For example, Similac’s newest formula with 2’-FL HMO is a breakthrough.  2’-FL HMO is the most abundant HMO found in most breast milk and not only promotes gut health, but also circulates in the bloodstream. 2’-FL HMO helps support baby’s immune system by closing multiple gaps in immune function between formula-fed and breastfed babies.

Q. As an immune expert, what do you do to take care of your gut health?

A. From my years of research and work in immune health, I’ve learned how important it is to take care of your intestines and gut bacteria. There are trillions of microorganisms or beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines and it’s important to feed them the right food.

There are 3 things that I do every day to support overall gut health:

1. Diet – I make sure that I eat lots of fruits and vegetables because they are rich in fiber and prebiotics which help feed intestinal bacteria. Yogurts are another great choice and are a natural source of probiotics. The nutrients in these foods nourish and help protect your overall immunity.

2. Antibiotics – Personally, I don’t use antibiotics unless medically necessary – doing so can upset the balance of your gut flora. I recommend talking to your physician about antibiotics. If you need them, ask about a probiotic supplement to take after you recover to help restore any impact to your gut health.

3. Exercise and Stress  Think about the last time you were stressed out for a period of time. Chances are your stomach and gastrointestinal system were impacted.  Every day make sure you find ways to reduce stress and fit in exercise to help you relax and stay fit. Doing so can protect your immune system. 

*not from human milk

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