The Importance of Beneficial Bacteria During Infancy

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: Bacterial Balance, Digestive Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Learn how the state of your digestive health can be traced back to your first year of life

Why do some people have more problems maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in their digestive systems than others? The answer sometimes begins at birth.

While in the womb, a child's digestive tract and lower bowel are not exposed to the outside environment. Nutrients are received, and waste removed, entirely through the mother. At birth, however, the child's lips, eyes, and other body parts come into direct contact with bacteria in the birth canal. These bacteria—which include both the good and bad bugs that live in the gastrointestinal tract—quickly establish themselves in the child's body and greatly affect health. The beneficial bacteria, for example, ensure good bowel movements, proper vitamin and hormone production, and a long list of other health benefits.

But as easy as this sounds, the process can be thrown off course by:

  • Cesarean delivery. This procedure does not allow the baby to be introduced to beneficial bacteria in the birth canal. In 2007, just under 32 percent of births in the United States were by Cesarean section.
  • Formula feeding. Opting for formula feeding instead of breast feeding can also disrupt normal bacterial growth in the bowel. Breast-fed babies have a normal (for babies) pH of the lower bowel of 5 to 5.5. This acidic pH is ideal for beneficial bacterial growth. Formula-fed babies have a neutral (pH 7) or slightly alkaline bowel (pH greater than 7). Many authorities believe the increase in formula feeding is directly responsible for the majority of colic and diarrhea complaints.
  • Breast milk contamination. But even breast feeding may not totally correct the problem, since breast milk can be contaminated with residual hormones or antibiotics from meat and poultry; toxic metals from food or the water supply; recreational, OTC, or prescription drugs; alcohol; or pesticides from foods. A study at the University of Nebraska even found that many samples were contaminated with herpes virus, Salmonella, and Streptococcus.
  • Infections, antibiotics, and vaccines. All of these, as well as changes in the diet, the weather, and even stress levels can cause the beneficial bacteria in a child’s bowel to fluctuate rapidly.

Starting life without a good growth of beneficial bacteria can often be difficult to overcome. It can lead to food allergies that cause excess mucus formation and problems like colds, ear infections, and asthma. And because these tend to be treated with antibiotics, the problem only worsens with time as the antibiotics kill off the beneficial bacteria along with the bad. Consequently, a child may reach adulthood without ever having established the proper bacterial balance in there digestive system.

More Dr. Williams Advice on Digestive Health and Beneficial Bacteria

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