Supporting your infant's immune system through their gut

We have trillions of microbes living in and on us, making up our human microbiome. 95% of these microbes are located in our gut. They have several important functions including playing an important role in the development of our immune system.

An imbalanced gut microbiome (otherwise known as dysbiosis) has been associated with an increasing number of diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, allergies and even behavioural disorders. Allergies are particularly common in children and are on the rise. The percentage of children diagnosed with hay fever and eczema have both trebled over the last 30 years. Therefore, looking after your infant’s gut microbiome is vital.

Development of the immune system during infancy

An infant’s gut microbiome establishes itself over approximately their first 1000 days. During this time, the gut microbiome programmes their immune system. Species of Bifidobacteria, that are dominant in healthy infants, help to ‘train’ the immune system so it can respond appropriately to potential allergens or harmful bugs. Bifidobacteria work to create a healthy gut environment and increase overall diversity by encouraging other good bacteria to grow.

Factors that can impact the development of the immune system

An infant’s gut microbiome can be disrupted by several factors including delivery mode, feeding method and antibiotic usage.

Mode of delivery can impact the establishment of a good microbiome. Children born through C-section often have lower levels of beneficial bacteria including species of Bifidobacteria, compared to those born vaginally. This has been linked to C-sectioned infants having a higher risk of developing allergic diseases (including hay fever, eczema and food allergies) later in life.

Human breastmilk plays a role in immune system development due to the various nutrients, bioactive substances and immunological components that can promote the development of an infant’s gut microbiome and help train the immune system. When comparing breast-fed and formula-fed infants, formula-fed infants often have a lower diversity of species of Bifidobacteria present in their gut.

Exposure to antibiotics has also been demonstrated as one of the major causes of gut microbiome imbalances. Maternal intake of antibiotics during pregnancy may increase the risk of allergies in new-borns.

Additionally, antibiotics administered in the first year of an infant’s life have been shown to increase their likelihood of developing an allergy by as much as 50%.

Increasing the diversity of your infant’s gut microbiome

Birth mode, feeding method and antibiotic usage often cannot be controlled and may not be a choice for many with benefits for both the mother and infant. However, there are some other ways you can support your infants gut microbiome to assist in immune system development.

Use of friendly bacteria

Infant drops containing friendly bacteria is one way to support your infant’s gut microbiome. Friendly bacteria drops can deliver good bacteria, like species of Bifidobacteria, to your infants gut to support the development of their microbiome and immune system. This can be especially important for infants who have been born by C-section, are bottle-fed or have been exposed to antibiotics.

An infants gut microbiome has different species of bacteria present when compared to an adults microbiome therefore, it is important to choose a friendly bacteria supplement that has been formulated specifically for infants. Additionally, not all supplements are suitable for both breastfed and bottle-fed infants, so make sure you chose one which is suitable for both.