Today’s Subject

Today I would like to tell you about your first microbiome; how it is formed, where it comes from and how we can help future babies to be healthier.

So, put on your reading glasses and prepare for a lot of vaginas.

Welcome to the world, it’s full of life!

During pregnancy, the fetus leads a happy, sterile life in the placenta*.

Then, during natural birth, babies rub their faces and everything else against their mum’s birth canal and inner thighs. This means they get coated in a lot of lactobacilli – the natural inhabitant of the vagina. This is your first bacteria!

But what happens with the C-sections? Well, some studies show the first bacteria a baby will get are… the ones on the hands of the nurse. C-sections can thus be linked to a different early microbiome and some hospitals now place a gauze in the mum’s canal and wrap the baby in just after birth.

In other fresh news this week, studies suggest that breast milk may be full of beneficial bacteria. It is already known to be rich in prebiotics that helps to feed and develop the best possible microbiome for the baby. Formulas are catching up and many now also include prebiotics. So that’s your first bacteria sorted. Now full of bacteria inside AND outside, you’re good to go!

*or does he/she? If you want to see some good mudslinging between microbiome specialists, casually drop in the question “is placenta sterile?”, stand back and watch.

What does this mean?

It means that in your first hour of life nature has ensured that you have been given the perfect mix of little microbes to build your first immune system.

Your microbiome is learning about life just like you are

In the first three years of life your microbiome will change from lactobacillus alone to a much more varied array of bacteria.

What bacteria? This will depend on what you eat, where you live, what you come into contact with, whether you get sick and how many antibiotics you take during these first years.

During this time, you and your microbiome will learn together to recognise friend from foe, to live together, feed each other and just to generally communicate. All. The. Time. It’s the famous gut/brain axis.

What can go wrong?

If there is strong evidence that if events prevent the development of the microbiome during these first years, there may be problems in later life. Birth by C-section and antibiotics appear to exert substantial influence.

Typically, early microbiome problems are linked to obesity, anxiety, asthma, eczema and food allergies.

Wait, does that mean antibiotics are bad?

Not at all, they save countless lives daily. But they have been being overused quite a bit and this has consequences for our microbiome. We are now learning to use them more sparingly.

So, what does the future look like?

There are lots of interesting studies now. I would like to point you to these ones:

Probiotics could help with food allergies in children: The science is still new and needs further investigation, but it is an interesting step in a promising direction. Here!

This New York Times article on the bacteria in breast milk is well worth a read. It also focuses on nutrition and suggests infants should eat their greens if they want a beautiful microbiome when they grow up.

You must, if it’s possible, be born with a kind of elegance. It’s part of you, of yourself” Hubert de Givenchy