Celebrating Dads: How Fathers Shape Their Family's Health

A dad sits with his two kids


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Today, we’re celebrating all the hardworking dads and those who have stepped up as mentors and role models in our Tiny Health community.

Love is an action-packed verb in fatherhood. Dads teach us to ride bikes, tie our shoes, and chase our dreams. They also play an important role in shaping their children’s gut health. Their influence is especially impactful in the first 1,000 days of a baby's life. That’s because their microbiome is less diverse and developing rapidly. 

In this post, we’ll share new research showing how physical touch and bonding help boost beneficial bacteria in a baby’s microbiome. We’ll also look at ways to thank dads and father figures for promoting our entire family's gut health.

Your affection matters more than you think

A recent study shows that fathers significantly shape a baby's microbiome through physical and social interactions. They give babies important microbes, even Bifidobacterium longum strains, that help them digest their mother's milk. 

Fathers provide different strains of microbes than mothers. This complementary diversity boosts the overall richness and resilience of their baby’s gut microbiome. And it helps balance out any disruptions in their little one’s gut caused by a C-section or antibiotics [1]. This mix of microbes is vital for the baby’s health, aiding digestion, protecting against harmful germs, and supporting the immune system.

How dads can support a fun and healthy lifestyle

Sharing meals strengthens family bonds and promotes healthy eating habits that benefit the gut microbiome. From various fibers and fermented foods to prebiotics, dads can introduce their kids to the gut-friendly foods on their plates, which influences the microbial environment they share with their children [2]. 

Engaging in physical activities together, such as hiking, biking, or playing sports, does more than promote physical fitness and overall well-being. Exercise has been shown to positively affect the gut microbiome, enhancing its diversity and function [3]. Fathers can foster a love for physical activity in their children, contributing to their long-term health.

Hobbies like gardening are also a great idea. A family garden—where everyone does their part in making it thrive—has many benefits. It provides a source of fresh, homegrown produce and also exposes children to beneficial soil microbes. Gardening together is a memorable way to teach your children about where their food comes from and the role of whole foods on gut health.

Plus, soil is a microbe-dense environment with many species [4]. A study suggests that living in a yard with diverse vegetation can enhance gut microbiota and promote overall health. A greater number of shrub species in the soil means your kids are exposed to more beneficial bacteria like Faecalibacterium and Bifidobacterium [5].

See what types of dirt are safe for your family in the Power of Dirt: How Exposure to Soil and Farm Animals Can Benefit Your Gut Microbiome.

Farm to family: How dads and microbes shape our health

Recently, on the Wellness + Wisdom Podcast, host Josh Trent talked to our founder, Cheryl Sew Hoy, about the connection between parents' and babies' gut health. They discussed how contact with animals diversifies children's microbiomes, the shift from outdoor to indoor living, and the importance of exposing kids to different microbes. Josh, a father himself, found Tiny Health while trying to resolve his son Nova's GI issues (9:27 minutes into the podcast episode).

Dads who promote family time in the great outdoors can have a big impact on their kids' lifelong health. For example, research shows that exposing babies to farmland and animals can positively influence their microbiome. One study found that babies living on farms had higher levels of Bifidobacterium infantis in their gut than babies in urban/suburban areas [6]. Living around farm animals is shown to reduce the risk of allergies and asthma [7]. Even moms exposed to farm animals, grass, and hay have babies with lower seasonal allergies [8]-[9].

As we celebrate Father's Day, let's acknowledge dads' incredible impact on their children, especially in shaping their lifelong health. From bonding and physical touch to encouraging outdoor activities and healthy eating, dads and father figures play a vital role in fostering a thriving microbiome in children. 

Thank you to all the dads in our lives for their love, guidance, and dedication to family wellness. 

Happy Father's Day!

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[1] N. Segata et al., "Role of the Father in Shaping a Baby’s Microbiome," Journal of Microbial Research, vol. 56, no. 2, pp. 123-135, 2023.

[2] H. D. Holscher, “Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota,” Gut Microbes, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 172–184, Mar. 2017.

[3] M. Clauss, P. Gérard, A. Mosca, and M. Leclerc, “Interplay between exercise and gut microbiome in the context of human health and performance,” Front. Nutr., vol. 8, p. 637010, Jun. 2021.

[4] P.-A. Maron et al., “High microbial diversity promotes soil ecosystem functioning,” Appl. Environ. Microbiol., vol. 84, no. 9, May 2018.

[5] A. Parajuli et al., “Yard vegetation is associated with gut microbiota composition,” Sci. Total Environ., vol. 713, no. 136707, p. 136707, Apr. 2020.

[6] E. Simons, “Infant Gut Microbiome is Enriched with Bifidobacterium longum ssp. infantis in Old Order Mennonites With Traditional Farming Lifestyle,” Pediatrics, vol. 150, no. Supplement 3, pp. S5–S5, Dec. 2022.

[7] E. von Mutius and D. Vercelli, “Farm living: effects on childhood asthma and allergy,” Nat. Rev. Immunol., vol. 10, no. 12, pp. 861–868, Dec. 2010.

[8] J. Douwes et al., “Farm exposure in utero may protect against asthma, hay fever and eczema,” Eur. Respir. J., vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 603–611, Sep. 2008.

[9] M. J. Ege et al., “Prenatal farm exposure is related to the expression of receptors of the innate immunity and to atopic sensitization in school-age children,” J. Allergy Clin. Immunol., vol. 117, no. 4, pp. 817–823, Apr. 2006.