Grace's Baby Picture

The importance of a healthy microbiome on your overall health cannot be overstated. Yet, many do not yet know what the microbiome is, let alone what a huge role it plays in determining gut health, metabolic health, and a strong immune system. For those of us in the birthing field, this topic has risen to the forefront in the past several years, as we realize that babies inherit their microbiomes from their moms. Thus, the health of the mother’s microbiome at conception determines the lifelong health of the baby. Wow, what a huge responsibility for moms-to-be! Last year I was honored to be asked by Marie Mongan, founder of HypnoBirthing® International, to give a keynote presentation at the 25th annual HypnoBirthing Conclave. A portion of my speech focused on the development of the baby’s microbiome, for which I reviewed over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles on the microbiome and pulled out the salient points. Below are the highlights–the basics of what you need to know about the microbiome–if you are considering getting pregnant, or if you work with pregnant moms.

  • Our microbiome consists of all of the organisms that live within and on us (e.g., bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa)
  • We need diversity in our microbes in order to fight pathogens and stave off disease; they are integral to our immune and metabolic health (Harman and Wakeford 2014)
  • Human microbial colonization begins in utero and develops in a non-random way—the baby inherits its microbiome from its mother and this “seeding” of the baby’s microbiota determines how the baby’s immune system will develop (Mueller et al. 2015)
  • The fetal immune system depends on adequate maternal nutrition; the mother’s intake of the micronutrients folate, iodine, and Vitamin D, and the fatty acid DHA, is especially important
  • An unbalanced microbiome has been associated with several health challenges including: asthma, eczema, diabetes, and obesity (Munyaka PM, Khafipour E, Ghia J-E 2014)
  • The greatest challenges to the healthy development of the baby’s microbiome are: 1) Cesarean delivery; 2) antibiotic exposure before, during, or after birth; and 3) formula feeding (Mueller et al. 2015)
  • The most important steps that can be taken to ensure the proper “seeding” of the baby are:
    • Step 1: Vaginal birth
    • Step 2: Immediate skin-to-skin contact with the mother following birth
    • Step 3: Exclusive breastfeeding (preferably for at least six months) (Harman and Wakeford 2014)

(Note: If you have recently had your baby and one or two of these crucial steps were missed, you can still significantly improve your baby’s lifelong gut health through exclusive and extended breastfeeding.)

So if I were the baby who wants to be conceived, what would I want my mom to do to best prepare for my conception and to ensure lifelong health for me? I would want:

  • My mom to be of healthy weight, with a healthy microbiome herself; research shows that regular exercise, healthy eating, being a non-smoker, and having low stress levels are especially important for my mother’s health, and therefore, my health (Mueller et al. 2015)
  • To experience a vaginal birth, where I will be “seeded” with my mom’s healthy microbes
  • To experience birth without the use of any antibiotics or other interventions
  • To birth at home (in my own bacterial environment) and to have only blankets and clothes from that environment touch me
  • To experience immediate skin-to-skin with my mom and no separation from mom (to experience rooming-in, if in a hospital)
  • To be exclusively breastfed for 6 months or more

If you want to dig deeper into this topic, information about my full presentation, entitled Seeding Lifelong Health:The Impact of Pregnancy, Birth, and Infant Care on the Baby’s Developing Microbiome, is available here: http://www.joyfulbirthhypnobirthing.com/presentations

We all want what’s best for our babies. We’re just now learning how important our efforts to make ourselves healthy prior to conception truly are.

Lori Nicholson, MPA, HBCE, CH, NLPP

References:

Harman T and Wakeford A. Microbirth: Revealing the microscopic events during childbirth that could hold the key to the future of humanity. DVD. Alto Films: 2014.

Mueller NT et al. The infant microbiome development: mom matters. Trends Mol Med. 2015;21(2):109-117. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464665

Munyaka PM, Khafipour E, Ghia J-E. External influence of early childhood establishment of gut microbiota and subsequent health implications. Front Pediatr. 2014;2:109. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4190989

Photo Subject: Grace Kuhlmann; Photo Credit: Lori Nicholson

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