Updated: Apr 9, 2019
It sounds like an odd pair, Birth & Gut Health, but there is a very real link between the two and it's one you should know about.
In a standard physiological birth (ie. Vaginal delivery), your bub is subject to millions of bacteria both inside and outside of vagina. These friendly bacteria are 'gifted' to your newborn and help them establish their first little immune system.
So what happens if we don't have this encounter during our birth experience?
The research is pretty interesting, with some studies demonstrating lasting effects in children as old as seven. In this instance, the research shows a far less diverse gut flora in children who were born via cesarean.
This clearly has an impact on the child's ability to maintain a healthy and vitalistic lifestyle as they develop through childhood and into adulthood.
I didn't have a vaginal birth - is there anything I can do to help build my babies immune system?
Although the best mode of sharing these friendly bacteria is a vaginal delivery, there are a few things we can do to help.
This isn't the most appealing method for just about every woman I meet, however, it can be a great way to get some of those good bacteria to baby with minimal effort.
How it works:
As mum is in surgery, gauze is placed in her vagina absorbing the fluid containing all the good bacteria, which is then passed to baby.
In the only valid study performed, babies who were swabbed post Vaginal Seeding had similar bacteria found as their mum as opposed to the 11 babies who did not have seeding performed and had less variety of good bacteria.
It's also important to note that there have been warnings about vaginal seeding with some concerns for passing on infection that could be present with the mother, although there is no evidence to support this.
Skin to Skin time:
It's now suggested that all babies have uninterrupted skin to skin time with mum for at least the first hour post birth, with many professionals recommending for the first 24 hours.
The only consideration to make is the risk of overheating when skin to skin is with dad. Unfortunately with men, the risk of bub overheating is higher so it's suggested that we take a break every hour at least.
Don't wash baby straight after birth:
Babies are born with a layer of vernix coating their skin in order to protect it from damage as they are suspended in amniotic fluid for long periods.
Some research is demonstrating that delaying babies first bath anywhere from 1 to 24 hrs after birth can do wonders for the good bacteria found on babies skin in the weeks following.
Instead of bathing baby immediately, you can gently wipe excess fluid or blood from them and even rub vernix into their soft skin.
Minimise the use of Antibiotics:
We know that antibiotics can be helpful in many ways in fighting infection. However, as a result of fighting one particular infection, we can eliminate the 'good' bacteria within our gut that are keeping us healthy and well.
If you are going to use antibiotics, ensuring diet is optimal by chatting to a Naturopath is a great place to start. They can also give you great advice as to which supplements, herbs, probiotics etc may be useful in balancing the guy flora again.
Most people now have some level of understanding about how our diet can be directly related to our health and that of our microbiome. This is especially important in a new born and while we are breastfeeding if that is what you choose to do.
Plus, you're recovering from birth and probably experiencing broken sleep so good food to support your body is a no brainer.
Minimising basics like refined sugars (breads, cereals, pasta, etc), chocolates and other treats and loading the diet with heaps of good quality vegetables and meats can be helpful in boosting babies gut flora - AND YOURS!
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee Opinion: “Vaginal Seeding.”
Science Translational Medicine: “Antibiotics, birth mode, and diet shape microbiome maturation during early life.”
Nature Medicine: “Partial restoration of the microbiota of cesarean-born infants via vaginal microbial transfer.”
Mayo Clinic: “Can vaginal seeding after a C-section benefit my baby?”
BMJ: "Vaginal seeding’ of infants born by caesarean section.”
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: “Vaginal seeding: Why we can’t recommend this C-section trend.”
JAMA Pediatrics: “Association between breast milk bacterial communities and establishment and development of the infant gut microbiome.”
Ruth K. Dudek-Wicher, Adam Junka, Marzenna Bartoszewicz (2018) Gastroenterology Rev 2018; 13 (2): 85–92
Pe´rez-Cobas AE, Artacho A, Knecht H, Ferru´ s ML, Friedrichs A, et al. (2013) Differential Effects of Antibiotic Therapy on the Structure and Function of
Human Gut Microbiota. PLoS ONE 8(11): e80201. doi:10.1371
Panda S, El khader I, Casellas F, Lo´ pez Vivancos J, Garcı´a Cors M, et al. (2014) Short-Term Effect of Antibiotics on Human Gut Microbiota. PLoS ONE 9(4):