Last week I opened the window on our microbiome; discussing what exactly a microbiome is and what promotes and hinders it. Over the next few months I’m going to speak on each of the following topics that impact our microbial health and therefore all aspects of our health.
- Microbial health from the beginning – How our health is impacted from conception, including vaginal birth versus cesarian sections and the benefits of breastfeeding.
- Medication use versus natural remedies
- Chemicals & toxins – personal hygiene and household products & chemicals.
Let’s start at the very beginning, our entry into this world.
Before we took our first breath our health was being determined by our mother’s health and habits. Dr. Chutkan explains that “one of the most dramatic changes happens in her vagina. During pregnancy, cells in the vaginal lining ramp up production of a carbohydrate called glycogen, sending glycogen-loving Lactobacillus bacteria into a feeding frenzy and increasing their numbers. Lactobacilli convert lactose and other sugars to lactic acid, creating an acidic, unfriendly environment that helps to protect the growing fetus from foreign invaders.”  But this bacteria doesn’t only protect the fetus, but also nourishes it.
A fetus is entirely dependent upon its mother for nourishment, therefore what she eats the baby eats and her habits are reflected in this little one. In addition to this beginning species of bacteria that we receive from our mother, we also receive protective antibodies from her via the placenta.
The Glorious Entry
A baby’s skin is like a sponge, taking up vaginal microbes it comes into contact with. During a normal delivery baby’s face comes in direct contact with its mothers vaginal and rectal bacteria, providing it with a good inoculation. Exposure to this bacteria is a critical step in the development of our immune systems. This important step is bypassed with a cesarian section delivery and studies show higher incidences of asthma, allergies, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and other autoimmune conditions with these deliveries. 
If a C-section is your only option, there are ways to restore your babies microbial health. A small study published in Nature Medicine shows that using a gauze pad soaked with microbes from the mother’s birth canal “can partially restore and normalize the microbial assembly that takes place naturally in babies”.  While research is ongoing, the first studies have shown that the mouth, gut and skin microbes of the C-section babies who were slathered looked much more similar to those of babies delivered vaginally than those who weren’t swabbed in their first month of life. If you are considering this option its important to share this with your physician in order to include it as part of your birth plan.
If you’ve already delivered your baby via C-section there are certainly ways to increase his or her microbial and long-term health with intentional work, one of which is breast-feeding. Other ways to increase microbial diversity include: letting your child get dirty (everything they put in their mouths can benefits them), nutrition (whole, unprocessed foods), and infant probiotics to name a few.
After birth a baby reaches its lactobacilli filled mouth toward the mother’s breast and begins to nurse, which introduces this important bacteria into the babies digestive system. Baby’s first milk contains colostrum, which has protective antibodies. Days later breast milk contains carbohydrates called oligosaccharides, which are undigestible, but are eaten and used as an energy source by important bacteria within the infant. These first microbes colonize the newborn and set the stage for the health of their microbiome into adulthood.  Our microbiome is almost fully formed by three years of age so the beginning years are a beautiful time to be cultivating a healthy future for your baby!
- If you are struggling with breast-feeding your little one, don’t hesitate to reach out for guidance from a trained lactation consultant in your area. Her knowledge and expertise will benefit you and your baby in the long-run! Another great resource is The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers recommended by my doula.
- If you’re struggling to produce sufficient milk supplies, check your area for a breast milk bank where you can receive donated breast milk from mothers in your area. This is also a great option for mothers who have adopted and don’t have the option of providing their own breast milk to their baby.
Isn’t the human body amazing?! Whenever I study any topic of health I’m always amazed at how intricately designed our bodies are and all they are capable of!
 Chutkan, M.D., Robynne. The Microbiome Solution: A Radical New Way to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out. New York, NY: Avery, 2015.
 Stein, Rob. NPR. February 1, 2016. Researchers Test Microbe Wipe To Promote Babies’ Health After C-Sections. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/01/464905786/researchers-test-microbe-wipe-to-promote-babies-health-after-c-sections?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20160201
 Blasner,M.D., Martin J. Missing Microbes. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.