Our children’s gut flora is important to their health, as gut health or the microbiota is essential in balancing the immune system (to protect against atopic conditions like eczema), enhancing nutrient status (in particular vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins), regulating digestive motility and providing protection against pathogenic bacteria.
An infant’s birth delivery mode can have a large impact on the type of microbiota that the infant develops. For example infants born vaginally will get exposed to the mother’s microbiota as the infant will swallow the vaginal bacteria as it travels through the vaginal canal. The infant will acquire bacterial communities that resemble their mother’s microbiota (mostly Lactobacillus) this will then enable the infant’s first microbiota to develop (with the addition of breast milk to feed the bacteria).
Infants born by caesarean section miss the opportunity to get the mother’s microbiota and harbour bacterial communities from the bacteria on the skin (mostly Staphylococcus). Because of this caesarean born infants can be at a higher risk of infections and are more prone to allergies and asthma. The infant’s microbiota can take up to 6 months after birth to develop properly.
It is not all bad news for the caesarean born infant as supplementing probiotics (in particular Lactobacilli & Bifidobacteria) from birth till 5 years of age can reduce the incidence of allergies.
The important items to take away from this blog is to ensure during preconception and during pregnancy it is important to encourage the growth of good bacteria and if there are any issues like overgrowths of Candida (thrush) or bacterial vaginosis then it should be addressed early to prevent these issues from passing onto your child. Interventions like probiotic rich foods or supplements can be safely used (check with your health care practitioner). Include foods that nourish the microbiota including fibre rich foods like flaxseed meal, oat bran, almonds, whole grains (brown rice and oats), fresh fruits (berries and red apples) and vegetables (carrots, red cabbage, broccoli, red onions, spinach).
Dominguez-Bello MG, Costello EK, Contreras M, Magris M, Hidalgo G, Fierer N, Knight R. 2010 “Delivery mode shapes the acquisition and structure of the initial microbiota across multiple body habitats in newborns” Proc Natl Acad Sci 107:11971-5.
Grönlund MM1, Lehtonen OP, Eerola E, Kero P 1999 “Fecal microflora in healthy infants born by different methods of delivery: permanent changes in intestinal flora after cesarean delivery.” J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 28(1):19-25.
Hawrelak J. 2014 “Gastrointestinal conditions and a healthy gut” Healthmasters live Paediatric masterclass, May session two.