Research in the last decade has unveiled a world of astonishing information about the bacterial population that shares our bodies, i.e. our microbiome. The shift in thinking about microbes from mostly "bad" to "necessary in some ways" is happening now, as we increasingly discover how microbes are crucial for programming our systems for lifelong health and vitality, starting with birth.
These important facts about the microbiome have come to light:
- As the microbiome of a mother is linked to her metabolism and vertically transmitted to her offspring, changes in the maternal microbiome also affect the health of the offspring.
- Not only do we need microbes, but we also need them in the right combination. The microbes that we have, as part of our evolution, adapted to co-exist with, are the ones most important.
- Our microbiome influences, to a large extent, whether we develop chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity later in life.
The manner of our birth and our microbiome are linked:
The trillions of microorganisms that live in the human intestine (gut microbiome), and vagina (vaginal microbiome) are considered to play a role in whether a baby has a healthy childhood and adulthood.
For instance, there is a difference in the microbiota of babies born vaginally vs. those born via C-section. When the baby passes through the birth canal, the baby's gut microbiome is "seeded" with vaginal, fecal and skin bacteria from the mother. In a C-section, only the skin bacteria from the mother enter the baby's gut. It is possible that this alters the course of the development of the baby's microbiome in a manner that lacks the natural advantage seen with a vaginal birth.
Equalizing the microbiome for babies born by C-section:
However, it is possible for the baby to acquire the "missing" microbes later in life. The baby's immediate environment and early childhood events also influence the development of the microbiome:
- Number of pets and siblings
- Cleanliness level in immediate proximity
- Nutrition (both in the mother and the baby)
- Antibiotics (either given to the mother or the baby itself)
Breastfeeding, in particular, gives a major advantage. Breast milk has been found to contain certain solid compounds in abundance that specifically boost the growth of the "good" microbes. It is now possible to synthesize some of these compounds in a lab and package them with probiotics for babies that, for whatever reason, have experienced a disruption in the development of their gut microbiome.
While these studies are still in the early stages, it is conceivable that an ideal microbiome can be mapped and a product designed to be given to babies that lack essential microbes, to give them the best possible healthy start in life.