Bacteria is naturally found living on our skin and in our digestive tract – especially the large intestine. From the moment of birth, our skin comes into contact with microbes, while our guts begin to populate with bacteria. Within the first few days and weeks of life, the gut is well established with bacteria. These original strains found in the gut largely remain the same into adulthood. Medical research is exploring how the type of bacteria we are first introduced to as infants sets the stage for our long term health.
NATURAL DELIVERY VS. CESAREAN-SECTION
Rates of C-sections are on the rise across North America and Europe. Differences have been found in the gut bacteria between caesarean born babies and those born vaginally. Why is this?
During natural birth, baby is exposed to bacteria in the vaginal canal (ie. Lactobacillus). The bacteria enter the nose and mouth, and make their way to the digestive tract. These good strains of bacteria are extremely important to the proper development of the gut.
In comparison, a C-section birth first exposes baby to the bacteria in the surrounding environment, and to those in close contact after leaving the womb (ie. Staphylococcus). These bacteria are not desirable to the gut, and are significantly different from those of a natural birth.
HOW DOES C-SECTION AFFECT HEALTH?
Listed below are topics and findings of current research surrounding C-section births and long term affects on health:
70-80% of our immune system lies in our gut, and the bacteria present help stimulate the immune system. Undesirable bacteria alter the development of the immune system
Higher rates of allergies and asthma due to changes in the immune system
A potential link between C-sections and Type 1 Diabetes – an autoimmune disease
Increased rates of eczema
Studies in mice have shown that gut bacteria affect mood and behaviour in many ways. In humans, studies suggest this may be the same case
Approximately 90% of Seratonin (our “feel good hormone”) is made by gut bacteria. A lack of normal bacteria can disrupt Seratonin production, potentially increasing rates of depression
Potential link to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) due to altered hormone production from disrupted gut bacteria
Antibiotic use in early childhood is linked to higher rates of obesity
IF YOU HAVE A C-SECTION, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
This technique uses a cotton swab to transfer vaginal fluids to the mouth, nose or skin of a newborn. It exposes an infant to the bacteria present within the birth canal, therefore providing good bacteria to baby. Discuss this treatment with your naturopathic doctor (ND), medical doctor (MD), midwife, doula, or other health care provider.
Infants exclusively breastfed in the first few months of life can develop a gut microbiome more similar to those who were born naturally. Breastfeeding has been shown to be protective against gastrointestinal issues like Inflammatory Bowl Disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), asthma, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. It also supplies antibodies from mother to baby, which develop the immune system and help protect against infection.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants until at least 6 months of age.
Probiotic supplements provide bacterial strains that are good for the gut. For infants, these can be found in powder form and added to a bottle of milk. For children, probiotic supplements come in powder or chewable form. Look for an infant probiotic made by a professional supplement company. Ask your naturopathic doctor about ingredients to look for, and how many live bacteria should be present in one serving (cfu) ie. 12 billion per serving/capsule/tablet.
Dr. Stephanie Liebrecht, BSc, ND Naturopathic Doctor