While it may not be the most pleasant way of assessing a baby’s health, what’s in a diaper can tell you a lot about what’s happening inside a body. Now parents have new information about their children’s gut health.
Bethany Henrick of the University of Nebraska and Evolve BioSystems Inc. recently issued a report summarizing previous research on babies’ feces. They found that the pH (the measure of how acidic or alkaline something is) has been steadily on the rise since the 1920s.
The finding is concerning because acidity is an indicator of how much so-called “good” bacteria a baby has in their gut. Good bacteria is necessary for digesting food and protecting us from disease.
Formula, Antibiotics and C-Section Rates
The team analyzed medical studies of infant feces going back to 1926 to come to their conclusions in the report.
“There is clear evidence that the infant gut microbiome has important long-term health implications, and perturbations of the microbiome composition may lead to chronic inflammation and immune-mediated diseases,” Henrick and her team wrote. “… [T]he profound change in the gut environment, as measured by fecal pH, present a compelling explanation for the increased incidence of allergic and autoimmune diseases observed in resource-rich nations.”
The researchers identified three main factors that may be contributing to the decreased presence of beneficial bacteria: infant formula, antibiotics and c-section rates. According to a study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, these three factors were linked to changes in gut bacteria that may be linked to health issues such as allergies, asthma and weight problems.
“We wanted to know about the combination effect, because these combinations are common,” the paper’s senior author Anita Kozyrskyj told CNBC. “For example, if you are delivered by cesarean, your mother always receives a dose of antibiotic prophylaxis, and those mothers often have difficulty breastfeeding.”
If a cesarean is medically necessary, there are alternatives to ensuring critical gut bacteria is passed on at the time of birth. One method is vaginal seeding, which involves inserting a piece of saline-soaked sterile gauze into the mother’s vagina prior to the procedure and then putting the cultured gauze in the baby’s mouth, on her nose and over her eyes and face and the rest of her body just after she’s born. (However, the practice is not recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists as of October 2017.)
In addition to passing on the mother’s bacteria, avoiding antibiotics when possible and breastfeeding, there are some other factors that may improve a baby’s gut health. According to John Hopkins Children’s Center study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, infants exposed to a wide variety of household bacteria and animal dander in the first year of life are less likely to have food allergies and asthma.
“We need to rethink how we behave as a society,” Brett Finlay, co-author of a University of British Columbia study on children who develop asthma, told Today’s Parent. “We’ve gone hyper sterile, with the idea of getting rid of every microbe. But I think we’re seeing the consequences now, with more kids with allergies, asthma and eczema than ever before.”
Another study found that taking fish oil and probiotics may reduce the risk food allergy and eczema, two conditions linked to the lack of healthy gut bacteria.
Some symptoms that may indicate that your baby’s gut health is suffering include irregular or abnormal stools, diarrhea, fussiness, excess gas, colic and reflux. If you think your child’s gut health need some help, talk to your pediatrician.