CHILDREN AND MICROBES: LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS FOR A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM
As parents, we want nothing more than the best for our children, with good health being at the top of the priority list. Children with colds can often turn into families with colds (nanna and grandpa included), so laying the foundations for a healthy immune system is a good place to start when setting your child (and your family) up for a healthy year ahead.
As your child’s immune system develops, it is naturally more vulnerable to mild infections. However, while sniffly noses are an unavoidable part of growing up, there are steps that can be taken to help support your child’s immune defense.
Healthy children need healthy immune systems and research shows that healthy immune systems require healthy gut microbiota to support immune development and maturation. The gut-microbiome is established within the first 1,000 days of life, providing a critical window of opportunity in which the foundations for a healthy immune system can be laid. So, let’s explore the different stages of microbiome development and the steps you can take to support your child’s, and your family’s, immune health.
Pregnancy is a great time to start preparing your child’s immune system, and it all starts with mum. The mother’s microbiome is passed through to the child via various pathways, including the birthing canal, skin-skin contact and breast milk. For instance, research has shown that a healthy vaginal microbiome plays an important role in supporting a healthy pregnancy. Therefore, ensuring you take steps to care for the health of your microbiome during pregnancy, such as eating a healthy diet and managing stress, can help to improve the chances that healthy microbes are passed down to your child.
Once born, the infant microbiome continues to be shaped by the mothers’ microbiome, largely through daily contact as well as feeding type (breast milk or formula). Breast milk is a complex and nutritious food source which provides an ideal balance of nutrients, as well as immune cells, hormones and beneficial microbes. Collectively the components of breast milk support the establishment of a healthy infant microbiome in addition to infant growth and development. In cases where breast milk is not viable, prebiotic and probiotic supplementation may help support and maintain immune and microbiome health for your child. 
Did you know?
Koala mothers transfer their microbiota to their child via a liquid faecal material known as ‘pap’. The microbes contained in pap help the baby to digest Eucalyptus leaves, thereby helping baby koalas to transition from breast milk to solid foods.
As children grow and develop, so does their microbiome. Through curious exploration of their surroundings, children are exposed to a myriad of microbes. From the introduction of new foods to daily interactions with family, pets and the environment, the more they are exposed to, the more enriched their microbiome becomes.4 However, western lifestyles, which are often accompanied by low fiber diets, sterile environments and the use of anti-microbial medications, have been linked with lower microbial diversity and therefore reduced immune tolerance to the environment. Therefore, to support microbial diversity and healthy immune development, evidence suggests eating a varied, balanced diet, in addition to spending as much time interacting with the natural environment as you can. In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, probiotic supplementation has also shown to be beneficial in supporting microbiome and immune health in children.
In summary, a healthy child leads to a healthy family - and vice versa. Taking care of the family microbiome throughout all stages of life plays an important role in supporting immune health, so that you, your child and nanna and grandpa, can get on with enjoying a healthy (and less sniffly) life.
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