Published 12/16/2013. Updated 1/4/2014. Updated 2/3/2016.
Correction added on 2/3/2016:
Until recently, it was thought that the uterus and placenta were germ-free to create a sterile environment keeping the developing baby safe from infections. But recent research has demonstrated that fetuses as young as one week have a complex collection of microbes living in their guts – and the placental microbes most closely resemble microbes living in the mothers’ mouths.
To learn more about this new finding, see Not Sterile, After All: The Placenta’s Microbiome. (Collins, 2014)
If you recall from the Gut Microbiome section, the guts of babies developing in the womb are sterile. They start acquiring their gut microbiota at birth.
There is evidence that the mother’s gut health during pregnancy affects both her and her developing child’s health. For example, a Finnish study found that mothers given probiotics during pregnancy ((Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12) had a lower incidence of gestational diabetes mellitus. (Luoto et al, 2010)
Another Finnish study found that abnormal development of gut bacteria in C section babies can continue well beyond infancy. The authors recommend ongoing dietary interventions for these children to improve their health. (Salminen et al, 2004)
It is well known that breast milk is loaded with antibodies and other protective factors that provide the newborn with an immunological umbrella. Infants who aren’t breastfed or whose nursing was prematurely discontinued are more likely to develop autoimmune disorders later in life. (Jackson & Nazar, 2006)
The World Health Organization reports: “If every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 220,000 child lives would be saved every year. Globally, less than 40% of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed.” (World Health Organization, 2013)
Collins,F. (2014). Not Sterile, After All: The Placenta’s Microbiome. See: http://directorsblog.nih.gov/2014/05/28/not-sterile-after-all-the-placentas-microbiome/ Jackson, K.M. & Nazar, A.M. (2006). Breastfeeding, the immune response, and long term health. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 106:4, 203-7. Luoto, R. et al. (2010). Impact of maternal probiotic-supplemented dietary counselling on pregnancy outcome and prenatal and postnatal growth: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. British Journal of Nutrition, 103, 1792-1799. Salminen, S. et al. (2004). Influence of mode of delivery on gut microbiota composition in seven year old children, Gut, 53:9, 1388–1389. World Health Organization (July 2013). 10 facts on breastfeeding. See http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/en/
A version of this page content will appear in my forthcoming 2014 Oriental Medicine Journal article THE MICROBIOTA-GUT-BRAIN AXIS: The constant two-way communication between our guts and our brains.
© Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.