Updated: Jan 5, 2020
We all want the best for our kids, right? We do what we can to provide stimulating environments, secure attachment, positive experiences, and good nutrition (among other things). Recently I have been learning more about the importance of a diverse and flourishing gut microbiome in setting the stage for mental and physical health. The gut micro biome is "... is made up of the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that live in your intestinal tract. These microorganisms, mainly comprising bacteria, are involved in functions critical to your health and wellbeing. These bacteria live in your digestive system and they play a key role in digesting food you eat, and they help with absorbing and synthesising nutrients too. Gut bugs are involved in many other important processes that extend beyond your gut, including your metabolism, body weight, and immune regulation, as well as your brain functions and mood. There are many factors that influence the type and amount of bacteria we host and although most of us belong to a certain ‘enterotype’ – similar to having a certain blood type – each person has a unique bacterial footprint." ~https://foodandmoodcentre.com.au/what-is-the-gut-microbiome/ It appears that people who have microbiomes that aren’t very diverse or plentiful are prone to many of the maladies that are becoming more common in developed countries today: asthma, diabetes, autism, depression, anxiety, food allergies, autoimmune issues, and more. We each get our intestinal flora and fauna (microbiome) from our mothers as we descend through the birth canal. The microbiome literally get stuffed into our nose, mouth, eyes, and ears. Prior to my son’s birth in 2007, my progressive doctor did a swab of my vagina to make sure I had good diversity of bacteria (apparently, I did!).
For a long time, it was thought that delivering a baby via cesarean section had no effect on that baby’s health later in life, but new research is showing that a vital step in proper functioning of the human organism is missing when babies are delivered surgically. Babies born in the caul (in the amniotic sac) likewise never get this inoculation, unless they are manually seeded. Seeding is “…the practice of inoculating a cotton gauze or a cotton swab with vaginal fluids to transfer the vaginal flora to the mouth, nose, or skin of a newborn infant. The intended purpose of vaginal seeding is to transfer maternal vaginal bacteria to the newborn.” (American College of Obstetricians Gynecologists) New studies are connecting the use of antibiotics, antibacterial soaps, medications, pesticides and other environmental toxins to a decrease in a mother’s microbiome, which leads to health problems for children growing up today. If you start life off with a compromised immune system, or an inability to digest foods, life gets harder as you get older. Over generations, the diversity and health of our family’s microbiome decreases, so as a society we are seeing low-grade issues arise. So regardless of what sort of birth our babies have, what can be done to make sure that our children get some good bugs in their guts? 1. Breastfeeding – breastmilk contains all the perfect nourishment for a newborn baby including fibers meant to feed the baby’s microbiome. How cool is that? Also, bacteria on your nipples, mama, add to the diversity of flora and fauna in baby. 2. Not Taking Antibiotics – I heard a statistic recently that each time a person takes antibiotics, their risk for depression goes up 25%. Antibiotics save lives and are amazing when they are truly needed, but they are over-prescribed and are wiping out microbiomes like crazy. It takes a lot of effort to rebuild microbiomes after a round of antibiotics. Common infections, such as ear infections and mastitis, can be cured without antibiotics, but most healthcare providers simply reach for the prescription pad. 3. Eating Cultured Foods – Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, etc all have great fermented cultures in them that increase the beneficial populations of gut bacteria. They need to be consumed regularly, though, to truly get the benefits. One bottle of kombucha after a round of antibiotics won’t hack it. Eat ferments as a condiment with meals a few times a week, especially in the winter and spring. 4. Playing in the Dirt – Exposure to good “clean” dirt, which is full of minerals and good bacteria, is fabulous for our guts. Maybe leave a little bit of it on your organic veggies that you get from a local farmer? Go deep into a forest and get some dirt on your hands; then eat your food without washing too well. Forgo the hand sanitizer. 5. Eating Organic – This one is pretty straightforward….if your food was grown with chemicals that kill weeds or insect pests, what do you think it does to the microorganisms in your intestines? 6. Drinking Clean Water - Chlorine is added to most municipal water systems in the US as a way to kill bad bugs that might make us sick. The thing is that then we ingest it, killing the good bugs inside our guts too! Fluoride, a known neurotoxin, is another common additive to drinking water. Finding a source of clean, safe water (with minerals) is key. As I look at my children, now 6 and 12 years old, and wonder what their futures hold, I really think that the best gift I can give them (beyond a safe and loving home, enriching experiences, and healthy relationship skills) is a flourishing diverse microbiome. It will serve them well in body, mind, and spirit for as long as they live!
Life Beyond Birth provides support for expectant parents, and new babies & their families, online and in-person. Find a class or contact Molly at www.lifebeyondbirth.com.