By Tessa of www.tessayoga.co.uk, Nov 15 2015 01:41PM
Your microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic organisms that line vital body parts such as your intestines, mouth, and skin. They have evolved with us to help us function optimally. The microbiome plays a role in digestion, regulation of your immune system, disease prevention, would healing, gut lining protection, appetite control, brain development and even your emotions. You don't really want to mess it up!
Your developing fetus is almost completely sealed off from your microbes in the womb. However, just before birth, a pregnant woman's vagina acquaires new bacterial species that would normally live in the gut. These species then come into contact with the baby's skin, eyes and mouth as it passes through the birth canal during a vaginal birth. The birth canal also supplies newborns with the bacteria Lactobacillus, which hleps babies digest milk and develops the immune system. This sets up the newborn's own microbiome for a healthy start in life. In contrast, a baby that is born by a caeserean birth does not come into contact with all of the same species and is more likely to have the surgeon's bacteria and ones prevalent in hospitals such as E coli. As a result then have a slightly heightened risk of developing allergies, gut infections and diabetes, although more research is needed into the longer term effects of missing out on this transferral of the mother's microbiome. Some research has indicated that those born by caeserean have a 20% increased chance of developing asthma than those born vaginally.
The important part of this blog is that you know there is something you can do about it! This microbial 'birthday suit' can be passed to the baby even when s/he arrives via a caeserean birth. Research trials are looking at the effects of placing a gauze inside the vagina an hour before surgery, then putting it in a sterile pot. Immediately after the birth, the gauze is wiped over the baby's mouth, head and rest of the body. If I was to have a third child, I would do this in the eventuality of a caeserean birth while we wait for the research results. Research supports the importance of the microbiome and I wouldn't wait for it to become standard procedure before acting! With a quarter of babies being born by caeserean in the UK, I'm sure that this will become standard procedure in a couple of years time. So another thing for your hospital bag: gauze and a sterile pot, and a willing partner to help you swab the baby afterwards. If you are having a planned caeserean, you could also speak to your consultant about 'seeding' the baby's microbiome.
I haven't read anywhere about the effects of induction on the microbiome, but I wonder whether inducing the expectant mother before the baby is ready to come could also lead to a reduction in the species transferred. If a woman's vagina acquires a new bacterial species just before birth, to interfer with the natural timing of birth could mean that these bacteria aren't present when an induced baby descends through the birth canal. Of course, sometimes inductions are necessary, but other times I wonder whether we should trust the process and not the hospitals' timeframes for different stages of birth.
Another important aspect of the newborn's microbiome is created through breast milk. Breast milk supplies a baby with a healthy dose of bacteria. New research has found that 10% of every woman's breast milk contains complex carbohydrates that a baby can't digest. So why is it there? Researchers speculate that it is there specifically to fortify the baby's microbiome bacteria. The microbial composition of breast milk changes over time, and is shaped by the mother's weight and whether the baby was born vaginally or via a caeserean birth. Any breast milk will help create the newborn's microbiome, so giving only the colostrum will help. However, if an infant has antibiotics, for example for an ear infection, this can diminish the species in the microbiome, which breast milk can help repopulate.
Pictures of the diversity and amount of species show the difference between babies born vaginally and breastfed, those born vaginally and formula fed, those born via caeserean and breastfed, and those via caeserean and forumla fed. Some cite the rise of caeserean and exclusive formula feeding as contributing to an epidemic of long term ill health. This blog is not written as a judgement on any of these practices, but to raise awareness of the consequences (that are only just becoming apparent) and how we can tackle them.
I come back to what I always say in class: the female body is truly amazing! As we recognise how amazing she is, we can give her a helping hand when necessary.
For more information (and all the evidence to back the above up): see www.facebook.com/microbirthmovie/ and www.facebook.com/Seed-My-Baby
I would also recommed you watch the MicroBirth movie, which is available on FMTV free on the 10 day trial.