From Womb to World: Baby’s First Bacterial “Gulp”
The benefits of consuming probiotic bacteria during pregnancy are many – probiotics are, in general, beneficial to the one consuming them, but they are also beneficial to babies during the birthing process. Your gut flora directly impacts your health in both positive and negative ways, making it important for you to be aware of the many options available for keeping your gut microbiome healthy throughout every stage of your life: from the womb, to infancy, to childhood, to adulthood, and beyond – your gut flora has been with you since the beginning.
During pregnancy there are a number of common and unpleasant symptoms that can occur, with many originating in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Any number of complications may develop, such as: diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). While pregnant, the immune system is often weakened from an increase in the hormone progesterone and pathogens are able to spread in the vagina. This causes imbalances in the pH level of the vagina along with the numerous complications previously mentioned. Probiotics have the potential to decrease or eliminate these symptoms during pregnancy by increasing the amount of beneficial flora in the gut. Bacterial vaginosis and eczema are other common issues that may arise during pregnancy. With the versatility of probiotics, it should come as no surprise that bacterial vaginosis and eczema may be effectively treated with probiotic therapies as well. Please, consult a doctor before deciding to use a probiotic supplement.
Considering your probiotic options is even more important when pregnant, as your decisions and gut microbiome will directly impact the health of your baby’s gut and immune system. Some recommend you should begin probiotic therapies 4-5 months before even conceiving in order to prepare your birth canal for the baby’s first “gulp,” which is a term used to describe the first encounter a baby’s gut microbiome has with outside bacteria.
“While in the womb, babies have a sterile gut; their guts have not been populated with bacteria.” It is not until the birthing process that your baby will be directly impacted by your bacterial makeup, but it is essential to prepare for this process. The bacteria found within your birth canal at the time of giving labor are responsible for being of the first bacteria to populate your baby’s gut. This is the starting point for our intestinal population, which develops within the first 20 days of being born. According to Dr. Khem Shahani, “it is essential to human health that a probiotic gastrointestinal environment be established and maintained.”
Therefore, babies born via C-section are more likely to develop chronic, lifetime illnesses than babies born naturally via the vagina and birth canal. C-section babies are significantly more likely to develop asthma, allergies, and many other autoimmune disorders. Because babies have a sort of blank slate up until the time of birth regarding their gut’s microbiomes, it is imperative for the first bacteria to be probiotics, or good bacteria. If it is at all possible, it is recommended that a swab is taken of the mother’s birth canal and then put into the baby’s mouth if born via C-section.
“Researchers have discovered that infants who are delivered by cesarean section have a lower range of good gut bacteria in their first two years of life, compared with infants delivered through the mother’s birth canal.” This study shows that babies delivered via C-section have a smaller total range of bacteria than those infants delivered via the birth canal. Another interesting outcome of the study is that babies born via the birth canal have bacterial compositions similar to their mothers while the same cannot be said for babies born via C-section.
What does this mean for you?
Well, if you’re pregnant, may become pregnant, want to become pregnant, are nursing, or just had a baby, then this is all important information to have. There is still much unknown regarding probiotic’s role in the early development of infants, but from what is known, probiotics seem to have an important part in the development of our immune systems. Often times, deciding to undergo a C-section is a medical decision made between doctors and involved adults. It can definitely be medically necessary to birth via C-section. Nonetheless, the role probiotics have in pregnancy, the womb, and the world is something you should consult with your doctor about! Do some research and get informed on the seemingly endless possibilities that go with having a health gut microbiome.