Whether you realize it or not, one of the most important things that you can do for your newborn baby is support the development of his or her microbiome.
Let me explain: The microbiome is the microscopic ecosystem that covers all of our body's surfaces—including the skin, mouth, gut, vagina, and urinary tract. Before a baby is born, all of these areas are sterile, meaning that no ecosystem has had a chance to develop. So an essential part of the first few months of a baby's life is establishing a healthy bacterial environment in areas like the skin and the gut.
As parents, you really can help cultivate and nourish this process for your baby by letting good bacteria thrive while keeping the bad microbes—like yeast, viruses, and unhealthy bacteria—at bay.
Pay attention to your baby's first microbiome coating.
A baby is born with some instant and potent microbiome boosters! During a vaginal birth, the baby gets coated with mom's vaginal secretions, which are filled with healthy bacteria. This helps "seed" the newborn's brand-new skin microbiome. Also, the vernix (the natural white coating found on a newborn's skin) is full of healthy oils and immune peptides, providing another immune and microbiome boost.
Water alone is best for newborn bathing.
I recommend bathing babies using only water for the first few weeks. If an area is getting smelly or irritated, clean it with water. If water isn't enough, consider a very gentle sulfate-free and paraben-free diluted soap. The baby's skin is working so hard to create necessary oils and natural peptides—let's let nature do its work here.
Breast milk is the best baby-skin moisturizer.
In terms of baby products, my favorite baby "skin lotion" is a few drops of breast milk. It is truly the perfect moisturizer—full of fats, oils, and immunoprotection. Simply apply to dry or irritated baby skin with your hands.
You may want to consider probiotics.
Boosting mom's microbiome is crucial, especially in births that required antibiotics, which wipe out the good bacteria on all surfaces of the body. It's great to increase the amount of yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods in your diet, but you may also want to consider taking a daily probiotic supplement. Probiotics can replenish the gut, and decreasing soap, skin, and hair products can allow the skin microbiome to thrive. And when mom has a healthy microbiome, it allows her to "feed" healthy bacteria to her baby.
Infant probiotic powder can also be helpful. With certain issues, I recommend mixing infant probiotic powder with a few drops of breast milk to create a natural probiotic cream. This can be particularly useful for treating yeast-related infections (like on mom's nipples or baby's diaper rash).
Breastfeeding will feed your baby's microbiome.
Realize that many of the good bacteria found in store-bought infant probiotic supplements live naturally on a woman's nipple. So, just the act of latching and nursing seeds probiotics into a newborn's mouth and gut.
Also, a fascinating recent discovery showed that human breast milk not only contains ingredients that feed the baby, but it contains specific sugars that are only digested by good bacteria found in a baby's gut! So, breast milk is directly feeding your baby and the good bacteria in his or her microbiome.
Keep the snuggles and kisses coming.
Understand that hugging passes along the good bacteria that lives on your skin, and kissing transfers the healthy microbes from your saliva to your baby. So, the next time you snuggle up to your little one, know that you are not only giving love and attention but helping your baby develop a healthy microbiome.
So hold your new baby close and do what you can to ensure that he or she develops a thriving microbiome—full of healthy, beneficial bacteria—and a strong, savvy immune system.