Published on 3/6/2016. Updated on 3/8/2017.
This post grew out of a question from the mother of a one-year old C-section baby. She wrote:
“Do you ever look at gut health in infants? My daughter had to be born c-section and therefore didn’t get a lot of the good bacteria from me that she would have received in a vaginal birth. So, she still struggles a bit with some digestive issues. I know many mothers that also struggle with this.”
I can tell you from personal experience years ago that having a baby who is clearly in great distress and cries continually for hours day and night and being unable to alleviate his suffering is heartbreaking.
If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have understood that his ongoing colic was the result of my gut microbiome’s having been seriously depleted of good bacteria from frequent doses of antibiotics over the decades before his birth. And I would have figured out how to repair my gut with probiotics while I was pregnant and also give him probiotics after he was born.
I was pregnant long before the importance of probiotics was understood by Western Medicine. My baby’s pediatrician only said that many babies cry a lot and I should burp him more often. Not very helpful. This was a baby neither I nor any of the more experienced parents of my acquaintance was ever able to burp.
“Estimates of colic vary widely from 5% to up to 40% of babies being affected, but most experts will accept a middle ground figure of around 20%. That’s one in five babies screaming for hours at a time. The sound is heartbreaking and being unable to comfort your own baby is intensely stressful for parents.” (Lester, 2014)
Not to mention highly stressful for the infant!
C-SECTION BABIES AND THEIR GUT MICROBIOMES
One third of babies in the US are now born by C-section This is twice the number as is medically necessary. The number is even higher in some other parts of the world.
This is important information because there is considerable evidence that C-section delivery shifts the composition of a baby’s first bacterial community. These babies are more at risk for:
Respiratory distress, even at term
Autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis and other allergies
Mental health disorder
and even some cancers
Infants born vaginally come in direct contact with the mother’s vaginal and intestinal flora as they pass through the birth canal, providing an important source of good bacteria to colonize their gut microbiomes.
Babies born via C-section miss out on this and instead acquire whatever bacteria happen to be in the environment, starting them off at a disadvantage. One study found that the primary gut flora in infants born by C-section can be disturbed for up to six months after birth. Another study showed that mode of delivery was associated with differences in intestinal microbes for seven years after delivery.
Since the intestinal bacteria play an important role in the postnatal development of the immune system and 70-90% of our immunity is located in the gut microbiome, this is a serious matter. If the intestinal flora develops differently depending on how a baby gets from its mother’s womb out into the world, it follows that postnatal development of its immune system would also be different. (Neu & Rushing, 2011) & (Alto Films, 2018)
Fortunately, some midwives and obstetricians know to smear a C-section delivered baby with the mother’s vaginal secretions to help compensate for the deficit. This procedure was pioneered by noted microbiology researcher Dr Maria Dominguez-Bello.
Within a minute of birth, the newborns in Dominguez-Bello’s study were swabbed with gauze containing the mother’s vaginal fluids, first on their lips, then their faces, trunks, arms and legs, genitals, anuses and their backs. The whole body rubdown took about 15 seconds. (NYU Langone Health, 2016)
With her husband, noted microbiologist researcher Martin Blaser, Dominguez-Bello has also made an award-winning documentary called Microbirth, about how birth method affects babies’ microbiomes and life long health. See the final section of this post for information on the film. These two are the experts to watch in their field.
THE HISTORY OF PROBIOTICS
The word “probiotic” is derived from Latin and means “for life”.
Centuries before the identification of probiotic micro-organisms, fermented foods were used for nutritional and therapeutic purposes. These fermented foods included kefir, yogurt, kumis (a drink made from mare’s milk), cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, sourdough bread, beer, wine and kombucha.
Fermented foods were likely discovered by accident. For example, transporting milk long distances inside animal skin bags in the low humidity and heat of the Middle East produced a fermentation process that turned it into yogurt and kefir. People liked the tangy taste of these probiotic-rich foods, felt better after they consumed them, and now had a way to extend the useful life of fresh milk.
The history of probiotic microbes progressed in parallel with the evolution of the human race and, thanks to today’s sophisticated techniques, can be traced back to ancient times, nearly 10,000 years ago. (Ozen & Dinleyici, 2015).
Back when my son was born in 1976, Americans weren’t consuming much – if any – fermented food. I’d never heard of kefir or kombucha. The only yogurt I ever saw in the grocery store was highly processed. I didn’t know the important difference between pickles made via fermentation (a living food – full of probiotics) and pickles made with vinegar (processed – containing no probiotics). I’d once tasted sauerkraut purchased from a grocery store shelf and found it tasteless. It had been heat processed to make it ‘shelf-stable’, killing off all its probiotics. My father was an enzyme chemist and knew a lot about nutrition but never mentioned the need to consume probiotics during pregnancy or giving them to babies so I assume he didn’t know about their importance. Neither did my obstetrician or my son’s pediatrician.
Kefir, the name of an age-old fermented milk product, is derived from keyif or keif, which means “feeling good” in Turkish). It is one of nature’s best sources of probiotics – for babies and adults.
Kefir originated in the Eastern European Caucasus Mountains. It’s thought that sheep herders accidentally fermented milk in their leather flasks as they followed their flocks. “The potency and powerful effects of the mixture soon spread around the tribes and was later picked up by Russian doctors, who heard of its legendary healing benefits and used it to help treat ailments like tuberculosis in the 19th century.” (Axe, undated)
My friend’s daughter gave birth to a very premie little daughter (2.5 lbs – who’s now thriving and gorgeous, the apple of her parents’ eyes. Her mom has been augmenting her breast milk with home made kefir she makes from organic whole milk. The mom eats the kefir and passes on its probiotic richness to her baby. Kefir can also be given directly to an infant. Put a little on your finger and let the baby suck it off.
Donna Schwenk’s blog CULTUREDFOODLIFE.COM and her several books are excellent sources of information and recipes for both making kefir and using it.
“Schwenk’s first book, Cultured Food for Life (2013), told the amazing story of how she used the probiotic power of fermented foods to heal herself and her family from serious illness and it introduced readers to the basics of preparing and using these health-giving foods. Dr. Christiane Northrup called it ‘just what the doctor should be ordering!’ Now, Donna returns to help us take the next steps in transforming our kitchens and our health.
“Cultured Food for Health explores the science behind the benefits of cultured foods and shows how incorporating ‘The Trilogy’—kefir, kombucha, and cultured vegetables—into our diet creates more powerful healing effects than any one of these foods alone, as the different types of probiotic bacteria work together to create a healthy gut and a truly healthy life. Donna explains how cultured foods can be used to address specific ailments—from IBS and diabetes to allergies, colds, and flu—and teaches us, step by step, how to prepare these probiotic foods and easily incorporate them into a daily routine. In a positive and welcoming voice, she answers the sorts of questions a cultured-food novice is likely to have (yes, it’s really all right to let vegetables ferment on the counter for three days!) and offers troubleshooting tips and clear instructions to support even the most uncertain home cook. By sharing her own story as well as real-life stories from members of her online community, she takes the fear out of fermentation so that all of us can experience the energy, well-being, and joy available to us when our bodies are working the way they’re meant to.” (Schwenck, 2017)
For more information, see my earlier post about KEFIR.
There’s also Evivo, a probiotic supplement designed specifically for newborns and babies. It’s given with breast milk and helps introduce Bifidobacterium infantis (B. infantis) into your baby’s microbiome.
B. infantis is a “friendly” strain of bacteria. It’s a type of lactic acid bacterium found in the same group as Lactobacillus, the family of probiotic bacteria found plentifully in kefir. B. infantis is naturally found in your mouth and gastrointestinal (GI) tract and helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
As we age, the number of bacteria in our bodies typically declines. This can result from poor diet, antibiotic use, stress, health conditions, exposure to toxins, and other causes. Taking probiotics can help restore the body’s bacterial balance. Probiotics are live bacteria.
Research evidence suggests that taking B. infantis probiotics can help treat certain health conditions. (HealthLine, 2018).
From the Evivo website:
“The first and only baby probiotic of its kind. Evivo contains the good bacteria B. infantis, which fully utilizes breast milk to protect baby’s gut from potentially harmful bacteria linked to higher risk of colic, eczema, allergies, diabetes, and obesity.
“9 out of 10 babies are missing B.infantis. Where did it go?
For many thousands of years, the good bacteria in Evivo passed from mom to baby during childbirth. Unfortunately, C-section delivery interrupts this transfer, and antibiotics hurt good bacteria along with the bad. Across generations, use of these important medical practices means that most moms no longer have this vital bacteria to pass along to their babies.
“Evivo restores this good bacteria and provides the gut protection babies need.
“15 years of research at the University of California discovered that 15% of the nutrients in breast milk can’t be digested by baby. Instead, they are there to feed B. infantis, which creates a protective environment in baby’s gut. B. infantis evolved to utilize these nutrients better than any other bacteria – and put them to work.
“Evivo is an activated B. infantis, which means it is ready to work for your baby.
“Our clinical trial, conducted with The University of California Medical Center, successfully demonstrated full restoration of baby’s gut microbiome. In the research, babies given Evivo saw an unprecedented 80% reduction in potentially harmful bacteria such as E. coli, clostridia, Staph and Strep.
“The results have been presented at several major international medical conferences and published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“Evivo is clinically proven to restore baby’s gut microbiome to a natural and protective state.”
MARYRUTH ORGANICS – LIQUID PROBIOTIC FORMULA
Update added on 3/8/2018.
Dr Gabrielle Francis, AKA The Herban Alchemist, tells me she recommends a liquid probiotic formula called MaryRuth Organics for children, teens and adults. (Francis, 2018)
The supplement can be given to babies one year and older. Dosage is dependent on age and weight.
Dr Francis has been practicing natural medicine for more than thirty years. She is a highly knowledgeable Naturopathic Doctor, Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, and Licensed Massage Therapist in New York City. See her website, The Herban Alchemist, for more information about her.
DR GABRIELLE FRANCIS
MICROBIRTH, A DOCUMENTARY FILM ABOUT BIRTH, THE MICROBIOME & LIFELONG HEALTH
If you want to know more about the important work of microbiome researchers Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello and Martin Blaser on, check out their award-winning video, Microbirth. The 59-minute film explores the latest science about ‘the ‘seeding and feeding’ of a baby’s microbiome during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. The film features scientists behind the ground-breaking research that reveals the critical role of mothers’ microbes for optimal training of the infant immune system and lifelong health.” (Alto Films, 2018)
The film won the Grand Prix award at the Life Sciences Film Festival in 2014.
For more information, see http://microbirth.com. You can watch the trailer and film; buy the DVD; and check out the workshops, online courses and book created as adjuncts to the film there.
MARIA GLORIA DOMINGUEZ-BELLO, PHD
MARTIN J. BLASER, MD
For more information on the documentary, see http://microbirth.com. You can watch the trailer and film; buy the DVD; and check out the workshops, online courses and book created as adjuncts to the film there.
Alto Films Ltd. (2018). Microbirth. See: http://microbirth.com
Axe, J. (undated). 7 Kefir Benefits and Nutrition Facts that Boost Immunity & Heal the Gut. See: https://draxe.com/kefir-benefits/
Evivo. (2018). Evivo. See: https://www.evivo.com
Francis, G. (2018). Personal communication.
Hansen, K. (2017). HealthLine.com. How to Use the Probiotic Bifidobacterium Infantis. See: https://www.healthline.com/health/bifidobacterium-infantis
Hardin, JR. (2013-2014). KEFIR. AllergiesAndYourGut.com. See: http://allergiesandyourgut.com/superimmunity/kefir/
Lester, J. (2014). About colic. Survivor’s Guide to Colic. See: http://www.survivorsguidetocolic.com/about-colic/
Neu, J. & Rushing, J. (2011). Cesarean versus Vaginal Delivery: Long term infant outcomes and the Hygiene Hypothesis. Clinics in Perinatology, 38:2, 321-331. See: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21645799
NYU Langone Health. (2016). The New York Times: Study Suggests Mother’s Microbes Can Protect Cesarean Babies. See: https://nyulangone.org/news/new-york-times-study-suggests-mothers-microbes-can-protect-cesarean-babies
Ozen, M & Dinleyici, EC. (2015). The history of probiotics: the untold story. Beneficial Microbes, 6:2, 159-65. See: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25576593
© Copyright 2018. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.