Why we need to teach parents about the infant microbiome
Expectant parents are highly motivated to give their babies the best start in life that they possibly can. Most will scour social media, read books, articles, blogs for hints and tips. They might attend antenatal classes, hypnobirthing sessions, pregnancy yoga or fitness classes. They may change their diet and lifestyle, they plan and prepare.
Huge planning goes into the décor for a nursery and researching which pram to buy. Parents are thinking hard about ‘getting it right’. They want everything to be ready, to be prepared and to make sure that they do their best for their baby. Most will be working towards a good, safe birth, to get baby out healthily whichever way they need to be born. To be fair, we all want to give our babies the best start, but there is something very important missing from almost all of their birth plans and preparations. Something that could have life-long effects on the baby’s health and mental well-being and that is knowledge about the microbiome.
We are each one of us in fact a walking ecosystem of 100,000,000,000,000 (that’s 100 trillion) bacteria, viruses and fungi that make up our microbiome. Our microbiome is part of who we are; containing more genetic information than our own DNA. It’s part inherited and part influenced by what you do; from what you eat to how and where you live. Our microbiome is hugely important as we live in a bacterial world, everything living on this planet is also covered in bacteria, viruses and fungi and so our own bacteria works to help keep us safe from all the bacteria we are exposed to every second of every day.
Babies are not sterile in the womb and latest research suggests that a baby will get some bacterial exposure in the womb but the most significant part happens at birth. This is hugely important as the second the baby is born it will be exposed to trillions of bacteria and it’s body will be colonised inside and out by them. Which bacteria get in first may well have long term effects on that baby’s health and well-being.
The birth process seems to be designed to make sure that baby gets exactly the right bacteria at the right time from it’s mother. This is important as the mother is living in the bacterial world the baby will face, she has already had her ‘training’ in what is ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’ bacteria. She may well have encountered many of the prevalent diseases and viruses in the locality and can transfer some protection to her new baby. It’s a maternal heritage with each generation of mothers passing down, literally through the birth canal, the information a baby needs to survive and thrive in it’s environment.
While modern obstetric births undoubtedly save lives, some of the practices have a negative impact on this hugely important process. Babies born by caesarean without labour have a completely different ‘seeding’ to those born vaginally. Early use of antibiotics can radically change the infant microbiome and has been linked to obesity and asthma in childhood and beyond. How and what we feed baby’s alters the make up of their gut bacteria and as a result their microbiome which in turn can have effects that the baby will benefit from or be disadvantaged by for the rest of their lives.
Seeding and feeding the infant microbiome
If you are working in maternity services or with expectant parents you need to know about this. You need to know what changes happen in pregnancy, how the body prepares to pass over this crucial bacteria information, how the main ‘seeding of the microbiome’ happens at birth and what about the birth process can help or hinder that, how breastmilk supports and provides crucial bacterial support and information.
The best start for a baby in terms of long term health doesn’t come from planning the perfect nursery. It comes from maximising ‘good seeding’ at and around birth.
The best way to understand this is to know what the evidence says and to this end, we’ve put together a one day workshop covering the process, the evidence and how to put this into practice both in birth and in teaching parents about birth. At the workshop you can find out about any particular areas of interest, you have the time and support to properly understand the science behind the headlines.
What attendees said:
“Thank you so much for such an informative study day. ”
“I learnt such a lot and your methods of imparting all the information really was super. ”
“I now feel that I will be able to talk to mothers / parents about microbiomes and will start including it in my antenatal sessions.”