Probiotics for Mother and Baby
Understanding How Digestion, Absorption & Stress Can Affect the Developing Infant
Nearly 4 million adults in the United States use probiotics, according to the National Institutes of Health, to gain better health.Probiotics are among the top three natural products used in children, most likely because of the way these beneficial bacteria help control diarrhea. Infants can even gain health benefits from probiotics - in fact, taking probiotics during pregnancy can optimize the health of an unborn child. One study even shows that probiotics might reduce the effects of maternal stress on the developing baby.
Trillions of bacteria live in the human gut. Some are pathogens, which are bacteria, viruses, and yeast that cause illness. Others are beneficial bacteria that can actually improve human health. These gut microbes can even help infants digest their primary source of nutrition - milk.
Milk contains proteins, carbohydrates and other compounds that are essential for growth and development during the first year of life. Probiotics help the baby's digestive tract break down and absorb these nutrients. Probiotics also help pregnant mothers absorb nutrients from the food they eat, which translates into more nutrition for their developing babies.
CARBOHYDRATES FOR INFANT HEALTH
Carbohydrates are an important energy source for adults, babies, and even bacteria. Human digestion of carbohydrates occurs in the gut. Gut microbes help the human gut digest these carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates break down easily to provide a quick boost of energy that fades rapidly. Complex carbohydrates break down slowly, so they provide long-lasting energy.
The human body quickly and easily breaks down simple carbohydrates in the first segments of the small intestine. It takes longer to break down complex carbohydrates so a lot of complex carbohydrates to pass undigested into the last segments of the gut, where it sits undigested.
Fortunately, microbes inside the gut help the body break down complex carbohydrates to unlock the energy-providing nutrition trapped within. In this way, probiotics help expectant mothers and infants get more nutrients out of their regular diet.
PROBIOTICS AND MILK
Probiotics can help mothers and babies digest milk. This is important for mothers who are lactose intolerant and babies who rely on milk for all their nutrition.
Lactose is the sugar in milk. The lactose molecule is so large that the small intestine cannot absorb it. To digest lactose, the body must first break the lactose molecule into its two smaller components, glucose and galactose. It uses a special enzyme, known as lactase, to split the lactose molecule into digestible bits.
Many organisms produce lactase. Adults and baby humans produce human lactase. Certain bacteria living in the human gut, known as bacterial lactases, also produce lactase. While both human and bacterial lactase breaks down lactose, human lactase does not digest all of the lactose in the digestive tract - bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus can break that down.
Probiotics can also improve the digestibility of proteins, which helps infants gain optimal nutrition from milk they consume. The protein in yogurt, when cultured by L. bulgaricus, becomes twice as digestible as regular milk protein. L. bulgaricus can help produce amino acids that help the baby's body absorb minerals from food.
PROBIOTICS REDUCE THE EFFECTS OF STRESS DURING PREGNANCY
Probiotics can even help reduce the effects stress during pregnancy can have on an unborn child. Researchers have known for a while that a pregnant woman's stress can have lasting mental health consequences for her baby. Now scientists think that stress causes these consequences, at least in part, by altering populations of microorganisms living in the mother's gut.
Researchers in one study, published in the March 2017 issue of Scientific Reports, used a mouse model to test the effects of stress during pregnancy. They exposed pregnant mice to different stressors that most women experience during a normal pregnancy. Previous research showed that stressing pregnant mice in this way affects the brains of their offspring, which then exhibit unusual responses to stress and cognitive abnormalities later in life.
The researchers found that stress during pregnancy affects the mother's gut bacteria in ways that prevent her body from absorbing nutrients from food. She is unable to give her baby the nutrients it needs for healthy development, potentially affecting the infant's immune and brain development.
HOW SOON CAN INFANTS START TAKING PROBIOTICS?
Infants can start taking probiotics from the first day of life. Exposure to probiotics at Day 1 helps set up colonies of beneficial bacteria in the child's digestive tract. In fact, babies can even enjoy the benefits of probiotics while still in the womb. The microbiome of the mother can translate into long-lasting health benefits for her unborn child.
One specific bacteria represents the predominant species found in the gut of healthy, breastfed infants - therefore we suggest that you only supplement infants with this key bacteria Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis, often shortened to B. infantis. B. infantis has even been recently named "the champion colonizer of the infant gut" by leading research scientists. Ensuring that infants are exposed to enough of these friendly bacteria as early in life as possible helps them get off to a healthy start.
More and more evidence suggests that gut bacteria composition matters when it comes to health. Babies are no exception. Don't underestimate the importance of healthy gut bacteria at all ages and stages of life.