Baby gut health beyond breastmilk
For a long time, doctors and researchers who worked on child health
believed that breastmilk was the only food for a newborn baby. But over the
past decade, doctors have learned that a key part of this
is the microbiome, a teeming universe of bacteria that live inside of our
digestive tracts. This is especially important for babies.
But we have since learned that it is also food for the bacteria, the good
bacteria that naturally live in the gut of the baby. We’ve discovered that
these bacteria are called bifidobacteria, and they help break down complex
sugars in the breastmilk into nutrients. Now we know that we can actually
support newborns, especially those born early, by supplementing their feeding
with probiotics that contain bifidobacteria.
Bifidobacteria can be given as a powder mixed with breastmilk or in a dropper to
help the baby’s gut microbiome begin on the right sequence. This helps the baby
grow, but also supports the development of their immune system—after all, the
gut is the largest interface with the external world.
What is even more interesting is that these bifidobacteria vary slightly across
geographies, but enough for us to contextualize its effects on babies in different
parts of the world. There is still much more we need to learn about the microbiome.
But what we know now can greatly increase the odds of allowing a baby to survive
and grow well beyond the first 30 days of life.
Adapted from Dr. Fyezah Jehan's talk at the Gates Foundation GoalKeepers 2023 event on September 20, 2023 in New York, US.
Reyes, S., Brockway, M., McDermid, J. et al. Human Milk Micronutrients and Child Growth and Body Composition in the First 2 years: A Systematic Review, Advances in Nutrition, 2023.
Muhammad, A., Fazal, Z.Z., Baloch, B. et al. Nutritional support and prophylaxis of azithromycin for pregnant women to improve birth outcomes in peri-urban slums of Karachi, Pakistan—a protocol of multi-arm assessor-blinded randomized controlled trial (Mumta PW trial). Trials 23, 2 (2022).
Muhammad, A., Shafiq, Y., Nisar, M. et al. Nutritional support for lactating women with or without azithromycin for infants compared to breastfeeding counseling alone in improving the 6-month growth outcomes among infants of peri-urban slums in Karachi, Pakistan—the protocol for a multiarm assessor-blinded randomized controlled trial (Mumta LW trial). Trials 21, 756 (2020).