If you have been reading the news lately, you may have heard that we are, as it turns out,  more bacteria than we are human. This has become clear as more research has looked into the importance of our microbiome.

I hear you asking, “what is the microbiome?”

Our microbiome consists of the numerous bacteria, viruses, fungi and many more organisms that line our gastrointestinal tract, the long tube from our mouths to our anus that consists of our digestive organs.  “It contains more than 100 000 billion bacteria from over 500 bacterial species, secretes at least 20 neurotransmitters and produces 70-85% of their immune cells.” (1)  It’s estimated that our cells are 10% human and 90% bacteria, we truly are more bug than human.

So why all the fuss, especially when it comes to the birth and first years of your child’s life?  

Research is showing that the “microbial community of the infant gut plays a profound role in programming and directing immune development.” (2) The bacteria your baby’s gut is colonised with sets them up for life, influencing many different types of health issues from auto-immune to allergies to diabetes and cardiovascular disease to name a few.

Depending upon the type of birth delivery you have, different bacteria are going to become the first colonisers of your babies microbiome, and these first inhabitants create something of a microbial blue print for the rest of your child’s life. (3) The types of bacteria present and the different balance of each can influence future health outcomes for children including the likelihood of developing asthma, eczema, and autism spectrum disorders. These childhood conditions have been linked to the development of further health issues into adulthood such as obesity, Type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and also mental health issues such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar.  Providing your baby with the best chances of colonising a healthy microbiome may help to decrease the risk of health issues that are becoming commonplace in our modern society.

So what can you do to help your baby develop a healthy microbiome from day 1?

Ideally, begin before you plan to get pregnant.  If you or your partner (research shows that “paternal health plays a significant role in the health outcomes of offspring” (3)) are feeling sluggish, bloated, lethargic, stressed, or suffer from ill health then take some time to look after yourself and get your own body functioning well.  Diet, sleep, and stress all play a major part in our overall health. If your body is not functioning well, conceiving in itself may be more difficult and your parenting journey and baby’s life may begin on the back foot. Plan when you want to conceive and if possible give yourself a good six months to clean out, detox and get your body running in tip top shape.

If you’re already nourishing a little being inside of you don’t despair, there is plenty you can do to give yourself and your baby a good start. I’m a big believer in Hippocrates (the Father of Western medicine) saying “food is thy medicine!”  What you put in to fuel your body determines the outputs, especially when it comes to your microbiome.  Foods you can include in your diet to improve the nourishment of yourself and your baby throughout pregnancy include:

  • Ocean foods such as sardines, mackerel, wild salmon, seaweed and kelp.  Avoiding fish such as tuna, ling, shark, orange roughy, and swordfish due to high mercury levels.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Fermented veggies every day.  Packed full of everything good for you they are especially great for probiotics and sometimes often said to be better then a probiotic supplement.
  • Bone broths, fantastic for healing and sealing the gut and providing lots of nourishment.
  • Lots of fresh vegetables.
  • Lard from organic sources for fatty acids and vitamin D.
  • Choline rich foods such as egg yolks and liver.
  • Fresh meat, fat included (its the best bit)!

(Carr, Padarin & Evans, 2015)

Why does how you give birth matter to your babies microbiome?

Where a woman gives birth depends upon where she feels most comfortable and supported within herself and her support team.  Hopefully you’ve done all your reading, questioned your care provider regarding every option and alternative and feel empowered and ready to birth your baby. Sometimes we get thrown a wild card and birth doesn’t go the way we planned and this is why we have life saving medical interventions such as cesarean sections.

When we give birth vaginally, the microflora from the mother’s intestinal tract, vagina, and perineum become the babies first inhabitants, colonising on the babies skin and entering the mouth and nose during delivery.  In comparison a baby born through cesarean section receives it’s first microbiome inhabitants from the sterile surgical delivery room.  “Studies have confirmed previous findings that early environmental exposures, for example C-section delivery, are associated with disturbed gut colonisation patterns and reduced microbial diversity.” (4) Hence, if possible the best beginning for your babies microbiome is  a natural vaginal birth, without any antibiotics or other medications for yourself or your baby.

What if I need a cesarean?

If you are in need of a c-section due to medical emergency, a research study from the National Academy of Sciences USA undertaken by Gloria Dominguez-Bello has found a way to improve the microbiome seeding through the use of a strip of gauze.  The process is outlined and the science explained in the must see documentary “Microbirth”.

An hour prior to surgery insert a fan folded piece of gauze into the vagina.  Just before going into surgery remove the gauze and place it into a sterile cup (you know the ones you  put a pee sample in) and ask your partner or support person to bring it into the surgery room with you.  As soon as your baby is delivered rub the gauze all over the babies skin, inside it’s mouth, nose, everywhere, to help provide the babies first colonisation with the bacteria it would have received had you had a vaginal birth.  The study showed that babies who had this procedure after a c-section had a microbiome colonisation that was more similar to a baby being born vaginally (5).  Women who have attended our past Positive Birthing Series here in Bendigo have asked for this to be done in the Bendigo Hospitals with staff accommodating and helping them.  So don’t be afraid to ask if you find yourself in this situation.

Now that you have that beautiful baby in your arms what can you do to optimise their microbiome?

Firstly; forget about baths and cloths! The more skin to skin contact with yourself and your partner, the more natural bacteria that is being passed to your baby.  Secondly; breastfeeding! The contents of a mother’s milk is amazing. Not only does it provide the nourishing minerals and vitamins that help our babies grow but it also contains food for your baby’s gut bacteria, such as oligosaccharides, which are only present in a mothers breast milk to feed the newly colonised bacteria.  Your breast milk helps your baby’s microbiome grow and feeds the bacteria that need to be in a higher proportion to have a healthy balance.  So make sure you keep looking after yourself and are fueling your body with nourishing foods.  If you do have issues breastfeeding and need to use a formula please work with a practitioner that has a great understanding of the microbiome to find a formula that suits your baby’s nutritional requirements, read the ingredients, do your research and make an informed decision.

Somewhere between the age of 2-3 years your baby’s microbiome will reach a point where it will stabilise and function similar to that of an adult.  So when you introduce those first foods be sure to do your research and introduce foods you feel comfortable with.  To continue building your baby’s strong microbiome look at introducing foods that help to maintain a healthy balance in the gut bacteria you have nurtured from birth.  The best resource I have found is the book, Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way, for new mums, babies and toddlers.  Packed full of amazing information, recipes and tips.  It’s become my new kitchen bible.

New research and studies are being undertaken daily regarding the gut, its bugs, and our microbiome. Its importance to our health is unquestionable and the reason why our babies need the best microbiome start they can get.

For more information regarding the gut and it’s health effects or to find a practitioner that works from a biomedical framework, visit www.mindd.org

Information provided in the following article is of a general nature and should not be used as medical guidance.  It is recommended that you seek the support and guidance of a trusted care provider.

References:

  1. – MINDD Foundation (ND) Gut Bacteria: The microbes we cannot live without. http://mindd.org/resources/gut-bacteria-the-microbes-we-simply-cannot-live-without/
  2. – Urbinder, D. (2014), The Microbiota of the Infant Gut. Bioceuticals: Maternal Insights March 2014.
  3. Carr, C., Padarin, H., Evans, P. (2015)  Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way for New Mums, Babies, and Toddlers.
  4. West, C.E. (2014), Gut Microbiota and Allergic Disease: New Findings. Curr Opin CLin Nutr Metab Care 2014; 17(3):261-266.
  5. Dominguez-Bello, M. G., Costello, E. K., Contreras, M., Magris, M., Hidalgo, G., Fierer, N., & Knight, R. (2010). Delivery mode shapes the acquisition and structure of the initial microbiota across multiple body habitats in newborns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(26), 11971–11975. doi:10.1073/pnas.1002601107