Most new mothers will agree that there’s simply nothing more important than the health and safety of their child. As a result, it’s common for moms to fear the threat of harmful bacteria and pathogens, which can cause disease and lead to potential complications. What often goes overlooked, however, is the need for good bacteria in infancy – this is exactly where probiotics come in.
Research has shown that over 700 different types of bacteria can be found in breast milk, including common probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and Bifidobacterium. The microbial diversity that characterizes breast milk plays a significant role in the development of a baby’s immune system, working to protect against infection and create a healthy gut microbiome. Many of these same strains of bacteria can also be found on the surface of the skin, which makes an additional case for breastfeeding instead of bottle feeding.
Probiotics contained in breast milk can support a baby’s health and well-being in several key ways.
Possible Prevention of Eczema
Eczema is an uncomfortable skin condition that affects people of all walks of life. It tends to be a result of inflammation, which is manageable to some extent via the introduction of probiotic bacteria. It starts at a young age, where anti-inflammatory properties from probiotics in breast milk are transferred to the child and may prevent against the development of atopic eczema, which can develop easily in infants.
Constipation is a problem that many newborns contend with, and for mothers, it can lead to dealing with quite a bit of fussing and crying. Studies have shown, however, that the introduction of probiotics from breast milk into the gut microbiome can help to improve the bowel movements of infants, thus leading to regularity and a reduced likelihood of constipation.
Enhanced Immune System
The immune system is fragile during the early stages of life, which is why anything that can be done to optimize immune health should be considered because as much as 70% of the immune system can actually be found within the gut. Therefore, the more fortified the baby’s gut is with probiotic bacteria from the mother’s breast milk, the more likely it is that his or her immune system will operate at peak performance.
Reduced Risk of Fungal Infection
The threat of fungal infection is something that most mothers don’t find themselves worrying about when it comes to protecting their babies, but these types of illnesses are more common than many people realize. Fungal infection is especially common with breastfeeding, as fungus can take root in the child’s mouth. When the balance between good and bad bacteria in the child is off, the likelihood that thrush may result can be high. Fortunately, breast milk that is rich in probiotics can help to prevent thrush and other fungal infections.
Supports Good Mental Health
Mental health issues such as ADHD, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression are omnipresent not only in the United States, but throughout the rest of the world as well. While it’s unclear as to how many of these disorders materialize, there’s a potential that it could have something to do with digestive health. The “gut-brain axis” is a connection between mental health and digestive health, and one can easily influence the other. By providing baby with an adequate amount of probiotics via breastfeeding, you can effectively work toward reducing the threat of mental health issues later on in life.
The Benefits of Taking Probiotics While Breastfeeding
Many people understand the concept of probiotics passing through breast milk and the benefits of supporting the mother’s microbiome prior, during and after pregnancy. While diet and medications can certainly impact the microbiome, however, so too can taking a probiotic supplement — something that many mothers don’t think will make a difference once they’ve had their baby. Those who plan to breastfeed, however, can help to further support their child’s health by consistently taking a probiotic supplement.
Here are three solid reasons why you should you take probiotics while breastfeeding:
1. Enhanced Microbiome for Mom
The mother’s microbiome has a huge impact on the health of her child. Many people don’t realize that breastfeeding, while an excellent option in comparison to the alternatives, can leach nutrients such as beneficial bacteria from the mother’s body. Naturally, this causes the immune system to weaken to an extent, affecting metabolism in the process. By taking a probiotic supplement, you can help to curtail the impact that breastfeeding can have on the body’s natural bacteria — you may even feel healthier and more energetic!
2. The Building Blocks of Your Infant’s Immune System
The state of a person’s immune system directly influences his or her health — especially for children. Because approximately 70% of the immune system exists in the gut, beneficial bacteria and immune health are synergistic. Breast milk can be effective for helping to build an infant’s immune system, and it will be even more useful if mom is taking a probiotic supplement. The more beneficial bacteria that can be delivered to the baby’s gut microbiome, the better.
3. Probiotics Help Produce/Absorb Essential Vitamins & Minerals
Most people are well aware of the importance of vitamins and minerals for maintaining good health. Did you know, however, that probiotic bacteria are largely responsible for not only the absorption of essential minerals and nutrients, but the production of crucial vitamins such as folate? It’s a key reason why taking a probiotic supplement while breastfeeding can help to generate a healthy life for your child.
Probiotics for Mom — Three Mistakes to Avoid
When starting a probiotics regimen, many people don’t know where to start. It’s an understandable anxiety, as there is an overwhelming number of different options on the market, so finding the right one can be head-spinning. If you have an idea of what to avoid, however, you can drastically reduce your chances of making any crucial probiotics mistakes.
If you are going to start a probiotics regimen, there are three mistakes you need to avoid.
1. Don’t Just Assume You Can Get All Probiotics from Yogurt
Fermented foods can be not only delicious, but also quite good for you. While eating probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut may help support gut health, however, doing so won’t deliver nearly the amount of probiotics most mothers need in order to provide their babies with enough beneficial bacteria through breastfeeding. Feel free to eat fermented foods, but just remember that they’re no substitute for a great probiotic supplement.
2. Be Mindful of Shelf Stability (Or Lack Thereof)
One thing to understand about probiotics supplements is that some (not all) require refrigeration from the very beginning of production until they are finally consumed. Otherwise, these supplements can lose a great deal of the viable, active cultures they contain, effectively rendering them useless. While keeping probiotics refrigerated isn’t usually that big of a deal, it’s impossible to know how they were treated before, during and after transport to wherever you bought them. Thus, choosing a shelf-stable probiotic is typically the best course of action.
3. Avoid Multi-strain Probiotics
While single-strain probiotics can be very effective at helping to improve the gut microbiome, multi-strain supplements aren’t always capable of getting the job done. This is often because different strains of probiotics may fight one another for dominance once entering the gut, killing each other off in the process. Fortunately, this can easily be avoided by simply steering clear of multi-strain supplements. Most people find that single-strain probiotics are more effective at balancing the gut and come along with higher success ratios than their multi-strain alternatives.
Any mother who is interested in providing a solid foundation of health bacteria for their child should look no further than incorporating a probiotics supplement into her diet while breastfeeding. While there’s no “right” or “wrong” approach to take, it’s best to start a course of probiotics well before initially breastfeeding the child, as this will help to ensure the mother’s microbiome is robust enough to stand up to the challenge. The more probiotics that can be delivered to the child early on in life, the greater his or her chances of enjoying a healthy childhood will be.