The bacterial make-up of a mother’s gut during an infant’s first few days may set the stage for life-long health or illness……
Today’s mom-to-be has an abundance of health information at her fingertips to ensure that she takes the steps necessary during pregnancy and after birth to optimise her baby’s health. She takes care to eat, supplement and exercise correctly and to avoid toxins during pregnancy. Once her bundle of joy enters the world, she’s sure to breastfeed and introduce the right solid food at the right time. But few moms realise the critical role the microscopic inhabitants of their guts can play in their babies’ long-term health.
A newborns’ sterile gut is thought get its first inoculation with microflora from mom’s vagina and intestines during birth. This implies that moms with unbalanced and its health consequences on to their infants. For this reason, researchers are investigating the potentially beneficial role probiotic supplementation in pregnant women may have on their babies’ microflora and health. Studies have also found that because caesarean (C) section - delivered infants don’t ingest mom’s bacteria on their way out, they have far fewer, less varied and different predominating strains of bacteria, compared with their vaginally-born counterparts. They also have delayed gut colonisation by the true intestinal bacteria, mainly bifidobacteria. This different and delayed biodiversity of intestinal bacteria may increase the risk for skin diseases, allergies and impair immunity.
The initial bacterial inoculation during natural birth is followed by a top-up from mom’s breast milk. the immune cells that are located in the gut are thought to capture microflora mom’s intestine and transport them directly to the breast for inclusion in the breast milk. It’s speculated that these flora also educate the newborn’s immune system to differentiate from pathogenic bacteria, thereby playing a role in reducing inappropriate immune infants experience less allergies and atopic disease. It follows that if mom’s intestinal flora are out of balance while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding provides additional bacteria from the nipple and surrounding skin. Breast milk ia also a constant source of prebiotics (beneficial bacteria’s food), and anti-adhesion molecules, (which prevent pathogenic bacteria from sticking to and colonising the gut). These beneficial bacteria and supportive compounds are thought to play a key role in protecting breastfed newborns from infection, including middle ear, respiratory and urinary tract infections and gastroenteritis.
The Growing Years
The important role that maternal intestine microbial balance, type of delivery and feeding choice have on an infant’s gut flora is evident, but what are the implications for the baby’s health? lack of healthy bacterial colonisation of the infant’s gut in the first days after the birth may result in sub-optimal immune system development, which may affect a child’s health for years to come.
Inadequate intestinal immunity means disrupted gut barrier function and decreased immune system defence against pathogens, resulting in infections; misidentification of dietary proteins as dangerous, causing food allergies; or other immune-related conditions, such as asthma, inflammatory bowel or skin disease.
A recent animal study supports other findings which show that normal gut flora can affect brain development and behaviour. The investigators found that mice without bacteria in their gut had altered gene expression, which changed brain signally pathways involved in learning, memory and motor control. They found that these detrimental changes could only be reversed if the mice were exposed to microflora while developing. Once the mice reached adulthood, brain signally was permanently altered. These findings support previous studies which showed associations between autism and schizophrenia, and microbial pathogen infections during the perinatal period.
Boost Baby’s Beneficial Bacteria
Optimise your own intestinal micro environment so that your baby’s exposed to beneficial bacteria during birth and breastfeeding. Gut flora can be disturbed or enhanced by your diet and lifestyle.. where possible, avoid factors that kill your healthy bacteria or allow unhealthy microorganisms to flourish, such as antibiotics, stress, radiation, constipation or diarrhoea, sulphates and a high protein (especially animal) diet.
Conversely, a diet high in fibre, from fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrain, provides prebiotics and keeps bowel function regular, allowing good bacteria to flourish. recent research confirms that diet and stress before birth impact the quantity and quality of new born’s microbiota.
Unfortunately, our hygienic modern society has drastically reduced our “bacterial experience,” meaning that mom’s gut flora may not be the healthy balanced biota that a newborn needs to inherit.
Moms giving natural birth or breastfeeding should consider balancing their intestinal microbiota by taking a probiotic supplement. As Hippocrates stated in 400 BC, “Bad digestion is the root of all evil.”