New research shows that the first few seconds of life can powerfully impact whether one is fat or thin, anxious or relaxed, sickly or resilient thanks to the effects of bacteria a baby is exposed to (or not) during birth.
In the largest study of the newborn microbiome, researchers found that newborns delivered via c-section lack the healthy gut bacteria found in vaginally delivered babies. Their guts also contain strains of harmful microbes – Enterococcus and Klebsiella – commonly found in hospitals. The lead researcher described the levels of harmful hospital bacteria in the c-section newborns as “shocking.”
These babies were also deficient in the beneficial bacteria that made up most of the guts of the vaginally born babies who have healthier microbiome “signatures.” In fact, the difference was so profound, he could determine how a baby was born simply by analyzing the bacteria in their stool.
The study is part of a larger Baby Biome study that is following thousands of newborns through childhood.
C-section babies missing strain vital for health, weight management, and immune resilience
The gut microbiomes between the two sets of infants became more similar after several months. However, there was one striking difference – the c-section babies had significantly lower level of Bacteroides, a vital strain for human health.
Bacteroides is a key strain for overcoming the health challenges of modern life. Bacteroides has also been linked with preventing anxiety, and boosting and regulating immunity to prevent inflammatory disorders. This may explain why people who were born via c-section are at increased risk for obesity and asthma.
A number of studies have shown Bacteroides levels are lower in people with obesity. Studies in both mice and humans show that when gut bacteria from thin subjects are transplanted into the colons of obese subjects, most subjects lost weight.
Why method of birth affects the gut microbiome
Research suggests that the vaginal canal imparts beneficial bacteria to the infant during birth. C-section babies, on the other hand, are deprived of that and, instead, are immediately exposed to the bacteria of the hospital and the people attending the birth. Studies are currently being conducted in which babies born via c-section are swabbed with the mother’s vaginal microbes.
Other factors to consider beyond birth
It may not just be the birth that determines a c-section baby’s poorer microbiome status. Women receive antibiotics after a c-section to prevent infection. This may be transferred to the newborn through the placenta and later through breast milk. Longer hospitals stays also mean these babies are exposed to more hospital bacteria.
How to develop healthy gut bacteria
Unfortunately, developing good gut bacteria is not necessarily as simple as taking probiotics. Your gut may also be overrun with detrimental bacteria that need to be “weeded.”
Perhaps most important is eating a diet that supports a healthy gut microbiome. The best diet includes an ample supply of vegetables and fruits on a regular basis in a wide, ever changing variety. Eating a diverse and abundant array of plant foods will help create a diverse and abundant gut microbiome.
To learn more about supporting the health of your microbiome, contact my office and ask for my Microbiome Handout to be sent to you.
Here are some links to additional information about gut health: