Oct 032017

The development of a robust microbiota in the early stages of life will impact our overall health status for the rest of our life. Our microbiota has many vital functions to perform that are essential to human health. This includes digestion, immune function, mood, how efficiently calories and nutrients are metabolised, gut lining and the synthesis of amino acids, fatty acids and vitamins such as vitamin K, B12 and B3.

It has been well established that babies born via C-section have lower long-term health outcomes than those born vaginally. Much of this is now being put down to the development of the microbiome in newborns. Those born vaginally get exposed to the microbiota of their mother as they pass down the birth canal, which allows the development of their own microbiota. Of course, the quality of babies developing microbiota is reflective on the quality of mum’s microbiota at birth.

Babies born via C-section don’t get exposed to their mother’s vaginal flora and may struggle to develop their own microbiota. Instead, they are exposed to the bacteria from the hospital environment and health-care workers. An altered microbiota has been linked to many conditions such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, allergies and eczema. While this might sound frightening for mothers giving birth via C-section, there are ways that you can support the establishment of your newborn’s microbiome.

How to enhance your microbiota prior to delivery –

  • Eat a diet rich in fermented foods (probiotics) such as sauerkraut, miso, kefir, kimchi and kombucha.
  • Include plenty of prebiotics in the diet to feed your microbiota. This includes sweet potato, oats, banana, onion, garlic and chicory.
  • Avoid any unnecessary antibiotics.
  • Manage stress levels, this includes anxiety leading up to the birth
  • Research has shown that mothers who take probiotics in the 3rd trimester have babies with a lower incidence of atopic conditions such as eczema and allergies. For this reason, I recommend that all my clients take a probiotic supplement in their 3rd trimester if they are not already doing so. Take a broad spectrum probiotic that contains at least eight different species.


Breastfeeding for Bugs

Breastfeeding is literally seeding your baby’s gut. Baby’s get nearly 30% of their gut bacteria from breast milk and another 10% from suckling on the skin of the breast.

Breast milk contains a specific sugar called human milk oligosaccharides (0ver 200 different types of HMO’s) that selectively feed many of the microbes that are setting up residence in our baby’s gut, in particular, the dominant Bifidobacterium infantis. B. infantis is known to support brain development, folate production, immune support, and most importantly feed an infant’s gut cells to begin the process of sealing their naturally ‘leaky gut’. In the presence of HMO’s, B.infantis flourishes and outcompetes other gut bacteria.

From this, we can see that it is not only the actual probiotics in the breast milk that make it essential for baby’s health, but it’s the HMO’s that truly allow breast milk to be the only true ‘superfood’. Whilst probiotic supplementation is beneficial, at this stage, it can not replicate the collective benefit that breast milk provides.

How to support your newborn’s microbiota –

  • Have as much skin to skin contact straight after delivery to encourage the transfer of beneficial microbes.
  • Delay bathing baby until at least 24 hours. Only use natural based soap.
  • Breastfeeding enhances the colonisation of beneficial bacteria in the baby’s gut by providing both pre and probiotics. If possible, exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of six months, and continued until twelve months plus.
  • Support baby with an infant probiotic. This is essential for those who had a C-section or for those not breastfeeding.
  • Avoid the use of anti-bacterial skin products and household cleaners.

Is it too late?

For those reading this, wishing that they had this information when their child was a newborn. Don’t despair, you can encourage a rich microbiota to develop in your child’s gut, regardless of age. Follow the points in the ‘microbiota prior to delivery section’ above and your child’s gut should start to flourish.

  • Babies born via C-section should be given newborn specific probiotics for the first 6 months.
  • When baby starts to eat solid food, include many of the above mention pre and probiotic-richh foods.
  • Let your child play in the dirt, this is a way to get exposure to good bugs and to develop the immune system.
  • Avoid antibacterial wipes and cleansers. These products strip the body of good bugs that are needed as a part of our natural defence system.
  • Supplement your child with an age appropriate probiotic.

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