Early colonization of the infant gastrointestinal tract is crucial for the overall health of the infant, and establishment and maintenance of non-pathogenic intestinal microbiota may reduce several neonatal inflammatory conditions. Much effort has therefore been devoted to manipulation of the composition of the microbiota through 1) the role of early infant nutrition, particularly breast milk, and supplementation of infant formula with prebiotics that positively influence the enteric microbiota by selectively promoting growth of beneficial bacteria and 2) oral administration of probiotic bacteria which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. While the complex microbiota of the adult is difficult to change in the long-term, there is greater impact of the diet on infant microbiota as this is not as stable as in adults. Decreasing excessive use of antibiotics and increasing the use of pre- and probiotics have shown to be beneficial in the prevention of several important infant diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis and atopic eczema as well as improvement of short and long-term health. This review addresses how the composition of the gut microbiota becomes established in early life, its relevance to infant health, and dietary means by which it can be manipulated.
Keywords: colonization; gut microbiota; infant; infant health; prebiotics; probiotics.