Gut Health for Kids: 6 Ways to Support Your Child’s Microbiome
Everything in a child’s life from conception and on helps to shape their microbiome and immune health. What you may not know, is that what we are exposed to and what we eat as children help to shape our adult microbiomes and have lifelong effects on our health status.
You will often hear about how important breastfeeding is for the baby microbiome, but we don’t hear quite as much about the childhood microbiome. Science has shown that by the age of 3 or 4 children’s microbiomes already resemble that of an adult. However, that doesn’t mean it has stopped evolving.
In this article, we will go over how the childhood microbiome affects our long-term health and a few ways to support your child’s microbiome for lasting positive health effects!
The Baby Microbiome
Everything from maternal diet to the method of birth to choice of breastmilk or formula has an altering effect on the baby’s microbiome. A mom really has a lot of pressure on her when it comes to pregnancy, birth, and beyond. But a lot of the stress can be alleviated by knowing that there are so many ways you can support your baby and the world of bacteria in their tiny tummies.
Natural options are always best when it comes to having a baby. So the optimal way to support your baby’s immune system and microbiome would be:
- Natural birth (avoiding C-section)
- Breastfeeding at least for the first year (at the very least 6 months is the most beneficial)
- Lot’s of skin-to-skin contact with mommy and daddy
When the baby is moving down the vaginal canal, they are exposed to their mother’s vaginal microbiome. This is their first contact with bacteria and helps to shape their own little microbiomes. C-sections are intentionally very sterile so the baby doesn’t get sick, however, it has been shown that babies delivered via c-section have much lower microbial diversity in their guts.
Their next exposure to microbiota is the mother’s breast. Believe it or not, there are special bacteria on her nipple that sense when the baby is nursing and if there are any changes in their saliva. This helps the breastmilk to change and provides the baby with what it needs at different stages of development. This also helps if they’re exposed to bacteria or viruses that can make them sick because it helps to shape their immune system. Unfortunately, the formula doesn’t do this and so there isn’t as much diversity to shape the newborn microbiome from stage to stage.
Our skin has its own microbiome and when we hold our babies for that much-needed skin-to-skin contact it exposes them to another world of bacteria to help shape their little microbiomes.
The Developing Child Microbiome
When your child is a little older and they are no longer breastfeeding and they prefer to run around than give too many snuggles, there are still important things happening in their bellies that are good for a parent to know.
As your child is growing, they’ll often go through phases of trying new foods or being totally against anything but chicken and fries. This can make it difficult for a parent and may become a battle not worth fighting. However, studies are showing that a poor diet can result in behavioral issues and make matters worse.
Conditions like ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and others have been linked to gut microbiome disturbances (dysbiosis) and low microbial diversity.
Diet isn’t the only thing to effects our children’s microbiomes. Exposure to antibiotics, where you live, how often they’re around people and animals, among others can all shape or harm their microbiome.
How Childhood Diet Affects Long-Term Health
Since the microbiome of a 3-year-old can be the same as that of a 30 or 93-year-old, we can see how what they are exposed to or eat can determine long-term effects. However, just because you have a healthy microbiome at one stage doesn’t mean that life changes won’t affect how it turns out being in another life stage.
A study done on mice showed that mice who were given exercise wheels and healthy diets in their younger stages continued to have healthy microbiomes as they aged. Whereas mice who were given a Western-style diet (high-fat, low-fiber) and no exercise were actually missing important bacteria (Muribaculum) for carbohydrate metabolism.
This shows how our diet as children can shape our microbiomes as adults. This is important to know to combat obesity and other diseases associated with slowed carbohydrate metabolism.
6 Ways to Support Your Child’s Microbiome for a Healthy Future
We all want the best for our kids and one of the best ways to set them up for a healthy life is to focus on their microbiome. The delicate balance within their guts will help them mentally, physically, emotionally, and helps avoid future disease. Here are our top 6 ways to help support your kiddo’s microbiome:
1. Focus on a well-balanced diet
This one is the most obvious, but it’s super important since it’s the one kids tend to fight the most. Make sure they’re getting all of the food groups and see what fun ways you can get them to try new foods.
Make sure they have:
- Whole grains
All of these will lead to a well-balanced diet and microbiome. Some ways to get picky eaters to eat are:
- Including them in making the food
- Having your child help out when picking foods (check out your local farms to see if they allow you to pick your own produce)
- Growing your own vegetable garden
When kids are part of the process, they’re more willing to try something new (or something they used to not like).
2. Let them grow up with pets they can play with
Cats and dogs have their own microbiomes that your kids can be exposed to. Studies show that kids who grow up with pets or live on farms tend to have fewer allergies and/or asthma.
Moving your body as an adult helps to shape your microbiome and helps you to endure fewer (unhealthy) cravings. The same goes for your children. Get your little ones outside and moving around to waste some energy and help set their future microbiomes up for success.
4. Play outside and in the dirt
Playing in the dirt exposes your child to more natural microbes and fungi. This helps them to have a more diverse microbiome. Vitamin D from the sun can also help to fight bad microbes you’ve been exposed to in addition to supporting cellular health. Get out shovels and build mud castles or start a garden!
5. Try to avoid antibiotics and hand sanitizer unless absolutely necessary
Antimicrobial products and medications can wreak havoc on your microbiome. They don’t discriminate between good vs bad bacteria and just attack them all. This depletes your good bacteria leaving you more susceptible to the bad.
6. Limit processed foods
Processed foods are one of the worst things you can do to your or your children’s body. While they may be easier, they do cause a lot of problems in the health aspect. Swap the bag of chips for some grapes and your gut and long-term health will thank you!
There are plenty of ways to support a healthy microbiome and therefore overall health of your children. Show them you love them by supporting their tummies and life by making these small adaptations in your lives. They’ll thank you one day.