The Importance of Gut Bacteria During Infancy

Filed Under: Gut Bacteria & Probiotics, Digestive Health

Newborn infant on mother's chest

Learn how gut health can be traced back to your first year of life

Why do some people have more problems maintaining a healthy gut than others? The answer sometimes begins as early as 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 bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract—quickly establish themselves in the child's body and greatly affect health. This process is like planting a seed, because those bacteria help establish the microflora that will eventually take root in the child’s digestive system. The healthier and more diverse the mother’s gut flora is, the healthier and more diverse her child’s will be.

See a list of all articles about Gut Bacteria in the Gut Bacteria and Probiotics Index

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 the mother's gut 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 the growth of healthy gut flora. 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 (all lifestyle factors that damage our gut bacteria). 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 being exposed to healthy gut flora can 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 conditions tend to be treated with antibiotics, the problem only worsens with time as the antibiotics kill off the healthy microorganisms along with the bad. Consequently, a child may reach adulthood without ever having established healthy microflora in their gut.

Read More About Gut Bacteria and Digestive Health

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Lifestyle Habits That Damage Gut Bacteria
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DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

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