Seeding your baby’s microbiome in order to develop a healthy microflora from birth is likely the most important thing you can do for your child as it sets them up for a life of health and happiness. The gut microbiome is highly correlated with the immune system, which fights off disease, and new studies have also found that it is linked to the brain and therefore can affect brain diseases such as MS, autism and Alzheimer’s. The gut microbiome can also have an effect on serotonin levels and therefore the child’s happiness and mental stability, and tendency towards depression. (See references below for more information)
From preconception to pregnancy to birth choices, and early childhood – we as mothers are making decisions that unknowingly negatively affect our babies’ health from the very beginning. This is not an article about judging women for their choices, but an informational piece that will hopefully help women make better choices – for themselves and their children. With research on the microbiome being a relatively new field, it is important to get this information out to as many people who are planning to conceive as possible, so they are able to make informed choices about their own, and their new baby’s health.
The more we discover about the gut microbiome, the more evidence there is towards it being the foundation of health and wellbeing, in absolutely every sense of the word making it one of, if not THE most important thing to look after in our bodies.
And this makes seeding your baby with a healthy gut microbiome the most important thing we can do for our child as this sets up their health and wellbeing for the rest of their lives.
Current research shows that a baby seeds their gut microbiome from their mother from four sources – the placenta during pregnancy, the birth canal during a vaginal birth, the mother’s skin from immediate skin to skin contact post birth, and the breast milk.
PRACTICAL STEPS FOR PROVIDING YOUR BABY WITH A HEALTHY MICROBIOME
- If you are planning to conceive, fixing up your own microbiome is recommended, so you pass on a healthy mix of bacteria to your child through the above avenues.
Ways to do this include the GAPS diet, fermented foods and drinks, and other forms of probiotics taken with prebiotics (food for the probiotics), eating a healthy diet high in whole foods and fibre, minimising stress, stopping smoking, and avoiding antibacterial cleaners/soaps.
- Learn about breastfeeding while pregnant, so you are ready when the baby arrives.
Talk to other mothers about their experiences, read about possible issues that may arise and how to overcome them. Mastitis is a common issue, and antibiotics should be avoided if possible. Current research is focusing on treating mastitis with bacteria (probiotics) so keeping your gut healthy with probiotics might prevent mastitis to begin with. Mastitis, especially if caught early, can be healed through natural treatments (I have done this myself), and there are plenty of articles on the topic, just google ‘mastitis natural treatment’.
Research advice on making breastfeeding easier, etc.
- Do not take antibiotics during pregnancy, birth or while breastfeeding unless 100% necessary.
These will kill off all the bacteria in your gut, good and bad – and may affect the bacteria you are passing on to your developing foetus during pregnancy, and the bacteria you are passing onto your baby through your breast milk.Take care of your oral hygiene. The baby’s first microbiome most closely resembles the oral microbiome, so make sure you keep your mouth and teeth clean during pregnancy. Having your teeth professionally cleaned by a holistic dentist during pregnancy may be beneficial.
- Take care of your oral hygiene.
The placental microbiome most closely resembles the oral microbiome, and seeing as the first way your baby’s microbiome is seeded is via the placenta, it is important to look after your mouth and teeth during pregnancy. That means regular brushing, and having your teeth professionally cleaned by a (holistic) dentist during pregnancy may also be beneficial.
- Do not use oxytocin to help speed up your labour, as this will also affect the seeding of your baby as it speeds up all the processes that are part of giving birth, giving your baby less time to pick up bacteria along the way.
- Plan a vaginal birth if at all possible.
A caesarean for convenience (either yours or your obstetrician’s) will result in your baby missing out on an important part of the seeding of their microbiome. It is possible to have a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC), so this may be something to look into if you have had a previous caesarean. If you must have a planned caesarean, try to go into labour naturally first, as the baby will soak up bacteria from the ruptured membranes before being birthed. With an emergency caesarean this part will usually happen naturally before the caesarean is ordered.
Some mothers are asking their obstetrician to seed their baby with a swab of vaginal fluid after a caesarean birth, and although not yet proven to assist the immune system, with the current information known about the importance of the vaginal microbiome on a baby’s immune system, doctors believe it is likely to help. Initial findings from studies currently being undertaken have shown that C-section babies swabbed in this way have a microbiome closer to a bay born vaginally than one born via C-section. See this article for more info on this study.
- Delay cord clamping until all the fluid has left the umbilical cord.
The cord will stop pulsing and change colour. This means your baby will receive all the fluid it was intended to receive from the mother.
- Request immediate skin to skin contact with baby, placing baby on your tummy underneath your breasts. Allow baby to seek out the breast on their own – no other species will force the baby on the breast like seems to be the norm immediately post-birth.
Even if it is hard at first, persevere if at all possible. It has now been proven that breast milk is superior to formula as it helps to colonise the babies microbiome in a way that formula does not.“The benefits of breast milk have long been appreciated, but now scientists at Duke University Medical Center have described a unique property that makes mother’s milk better than infant formula in protecting infants from infections and illnesses. The finding, published in the August issue of the journal Current Nutrition & Food Science, explains how breast milk, but not infant formula, fosters colonies of microbiotic flora in a newborn’s intestinal tract that aid nutrient absorption and immune system development.” (From this article)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says: “Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.” http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
Only a small percentage of mothers can actually physically not breastfeed, the rest give up for other reasons, including lack of support and encouragement. There are fantastic resources available to breastfeeding mothers including ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association, who have a Breastfeeding helpline, which you can call and speak to a mother who has been where you are, and is there to help you). It can be hard to ask for help sometimes, I know – I struggled at first too, but ended up calling them and am so glad I did.
Breastfeed for as long as you can, as the breastmilk does provide immunity to the child. Many mothers I have spoken to,
myself included, have found that their child started to get sick a lot more often after they stopped breastfeeding. I know
there is this weird stigma attached to breastfeeding for some strange reason, but even the WHO recommends
breastfeeding until AT LEAST 2 year of age, or longer: “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with
continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”
- Do not bath baby for 24 hours after birth, in order to give baby plenty of time to be seeded with the mother’s vaginal bacteria, as well as skin bacteria. When bathing baby, only use plain water for the first 4 weeks to allow uninterrupted seeding of their microbiome. Not using antibacterial soaps is important during this time.
- Research and consider the importance of the Virgin Gut to your baby’s development.
Here is a good article to get you started, but there are also plenty of other sources of information out there.
- Do not give your baby/child antibiotics unless absolutely necessary.
Antibiotics will kill off the good bacteria in the gut along with the bad, undoing all the effort you’ve put it thus far to seed your baby’s microbiome. Antibiotics don’t know how to distinguish between beneficial and infectious bacteria. There are natural remedies for many childhood illnesses, so please research the natural alternatives and try those first if possible. Remember that antibiotics will only work to kill a bacterial infection, so any viruses like cold or flu will not be helped through taking antibiotics, and bacterial infections should only be fought with antibiotics as a last resort. Of course there are instances where antibiotics can be necessary and have saved lives, but they are also grossly overused and many people are unaware that they cause possibly irreversible damage to the gut bacteria (researchers are still working on whether the gut balance following antibiotic use is recoverable, although it is known that it is improvable).IF you do use antibitoics on your children (or yourself, or anyone) be sure to follow the course of antibiotics with probiotics (either supplements or fermented food or drinks) in order to attempt to repopulate the gut microbiome with beneficial bacteria. Not doing this can allow candida to overgrow in the gut, which can cause many ill effects, with symptoms including thrush and sugar cravings. See this article for more information on treating candida with ferments.
With my next pregnancy, I will be putting the following requests into my birth plan, which I will ask my midwife to sign. Feel free to copy and paste them (or whichever apply to you) into yours also. Having a birth plan given to the midwife beforehand can prevent a lot of unnecessary stress, and help work towards you achieving the kind of birth you want to remember rather than one you’d rather forget.
BIRTH PLAN TO INCLUDE
- No antibiotics (unless 100% necessary)
- No oxytocin
- Natural unassisted birth
- Immediate skin to skin contact
- Delay cord clamping & cutting until after cord stops pulsing
- Allow baby to naturally find breast and attach
- If emergency caesarean required (only if 100% necessary), vaginal swabbing of baby requested.
Please, if you find some information that contradicts, or adds to, the information contained above, leave a comment and let me know so I can update this article in order to keep it up to date with current research. The microbiome, and especially seeding a baby’s microbiome are cutting edge topics, and new information is constantly coming out. I will of course continue to research the topic, but I can’t be all over everything, so would appreciate any links that will help. Useful links to add to my references and further reading section are also appreciated. Thank you!
References and further reading:
Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Science
Currently studying: Master of Human Nutrition
But most importantly, Imperfect Mother
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