Have you heard of the “microbiome”? This is the word for a small ecosystem made up of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Everyone has ecosystems like these in their body, such as the gut microbiome, the skin microbiome, and pregnant people even have a placental microbiome inside their uterus. These tiny ecosystems are responsible for generating and absorbing essential nutrients, helping with digestion, and even providing a backbone for your immune system. In fact, 70-80% of your immune cells are in your gut!
We all know that the mother’s health affects the health of the baby. This is why pregnant women are advised against taking certain medications and drinking alcohol. Research shows that the microbiomes involved in birth- the placental and vaginal microbiomes- also have an important impact on the long-term health of the baby, including their risk of autoimmunity.
Importance of Infant Microbiome
The gut microbiome plays a key role in disease development, especially during early life. The foundation of a child’s gut microbiome is built during the first 3 years of life. This is a critical window because any disturbances to the microbiome during this time can have life-long consequences such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and neurological conditions. Studies have also shown that the microbiome in the first 3 years of life can influence a child’s chance of developing an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes or celiac disease.
During infancy, the gut is dominated by a type of bacteria called “bifidobacteria”. Having higher levels of bifidobacteria have been associated with lower risk for obesity, allergies, and autoimmunity. These specific organisms also make nutrients that are vital to early development, such as sialic acid, which is essential for brain development!
So, we know that an infant’s gut microbiome is incredibly important to their future physical and mental health. We have to make sure to build a proper foundation. What are some factors that affect an infant’s microbiome?
The Maternal Gut Microbiome
Studies have proven that the microbes found in the placenta match those in the mother’s mouth. The first microbes that a fetus learns come directly from mom! This means that an expecting mother’s gut health directly affects their baby’s future gut health.
Infants born before 33 weeks have less gut biodiversity than infants born full-term. Biodiversity= having many different types of microbes. Having more biodiversity in the baby’s gut helps their immune system develop properly.
Mode of Delivery
Infants born via C-section show overall lower biodiversity in their gut during the first 2 years of life. The low levels of healthy microbes in C-section babies allowed harmful bacteria to take over. Lower gut biodiversity in infants= higher risk of infection! The bacteria that the mother passes to the baby during vaginal births helps protect them against infection and immune system issues such as allergies. One study of 6,000 babies in New York found that those born via C-section were twice as likely to develop food allergies or asthma by age 3.
Mode of Feeding
Breast milk is the ideal food for infants. A mother’s milk is specific for the needs of their baby. The probiotics in the milk depend on the mode of delivery, gestational age, and environmental exposures.
One interesting environmental factor that seems to be important for healthy breast milk microbiota is actually the stress involved with birth! Who knew that stress could ever be a good thing? But it’s true- mothers who had an emergency C-section or a vaginal delivery had healthier breast milk microbes than mothers who chose to have an elective C-section. The only difference between an elective C-section and an emergency C-section is the amount of stress that the mother experiences during the birth. (Sorry, moms!)
Check Out Your Gut!
Having a healthy gut is vital to having a healthy immune system, no matter your age. The root cause of autoimmune conditions almost always includes gut dysbiosis. Many of our clients get a “GI Map”, which is a very comprehensive stool test that detects bacterial overgrowths and undergrowths, viral and parasitic infections, bacterial pathogens, fungi, and more. We have found no other stool test that is more comprehensive.
Maybe you are an expecting mom, trying to get pregnant, or curious about your child’s gut health. In any case, if you are interested in finding the root cause of your condition or checking out the health of your or your child’s gut, click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page!