There isn’t a magic pill that will stop us getting disease but a strong immune system is definitely a good start. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the immune system we develop in our early years lays the foundation for the strength of our immunity throughout life. As a baby grows and learns to adapt to a world outside the womb, its immune system is learning to work out how best to deal with ‘threats’, or germs, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease.
One thing that is thought to help the development of a strong immune system is the variety and type of bugs the baby has inside its gut. A healthy balance of the right bugs, for example Bifidobacteria, has been shown to help the baby’s immune system learn how to react to bad bugs, the ones that can cause disease. Some of the diseases that have been linked to this process include obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, eczema and atopy.
Which then leads to the question
– what can we do to help a baby have a healthy balance of the right bugs in its gut to help that immune system develop? In good news there appears to be a number of ways. The first is from the mother and a vaginal delivery and breastmilk are thought to be two key opportunities. A vaginal delivery helps ‘seed’ the baby's gut with good microbes, and breastmilk feeds those microbes so they can proliferate. Of course this assumes that the mother’s microbiome is healthy, and diet has been shown to play a significant role in her gut composition.
There are other ways thought to give a newborn baby’s microbiome a kick start, including probiotics. A recent detailed review of current research
explains all of the above in more detail and gives references if you want to dive into the nitty gritty. One thing to remember is that the crucial window of opportunity is in the first four months from birth, so being aware of your choices and this chance before you give birth is a good way to make informed decisions.
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