This is a sidebar to Allergic Living’s feature: Inside the Microbiome: Why Good Gut Bacteria Is the Big Hope For Allergic Disease
Want to be good to your gut, and help protect your baby’s bacteria? Here’s how, according to these points adapted from Let Them Eat Dirty: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World by Brett Finlay and Marie-Claire Arrieta.
Feed your microbes – Eat fewer sugary foods and refined carbohydrates, and make fruits, vegetables and fiber staples in your diet. A varied, healthy diet is better for you, your kids and your microbiota.
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics – Antibiotics are important medications, but they should be used only when necessary, especially during pregnancy and in a baby’s first year of life; discuss any concerns with your doctor. Also opt for antibiotic-free meats, and, in most situations, skip the antimicrobial soaps and sanitizers.
Go for a natural birth – Sometimes a cesarean is unavoidable, but during a vaginal delivery, babies get what Finlay calls a “big gulp” of microbes on their way out. If a C-section is a must, ask your doctor about “seeding” – that is, swabbing infants with vaginal secretions from the mother to achieve a similar effect.
Breastfeed your baby – Mothers’ breast milk is packed with nutrients as well as “good” microbes that help babies develop diverse microbiota, which in turn help protect kids against everything from asthma to obesity. Finlay recommends breast-feeding for the first year and “ideally until 2 years old,” while also starting solid foods at four to seven months.
Consider probiotics – Probiotics can be a useful tool for boosting your microbiota, especially during pregnancy or breast-feeding, or after taking antibiotics. But they’re not one size fits all, so speak to your doctor about the most effective options.
Get a dog – Multiple studies have shown that having a dog in the home can decrease a child’s risk of asthma. However, don’t go this route if there’s already a dog allergy in the home. If you don’t own a dog, have your kids visit with a dog you know – and don’t fear the odd lick!
Get out of the house – With kids, promote physical exercise, time at the playground and time in nature. As Finlay writes, “Let your kid be a kid and interact with their world, and develop as kids have for the past million years. Let them eat dirt!”