Bugs and Birth

What does birth have to do with girth?

Almost one third of Australian babies are delivered by Caesarean section. In some cases the procedure is life-saving and therefore imperative. In other cases, it is the mother’s or doctor’s personal preference. Until recently we believed that Caesarean deliveries were perfectly safe. We have now discovered there are hidden costs to the baby’s future health.

During pregnancy, the bacteria in a mother’s gut and vagina undergo changes. Some species become more prevalent, others less. The bacteria that start to flourish have two roles:

  1. They help prepare mum’s body for birth.
  2. They are getting ready to be transferred to the baby as it passes through the birth canal.

However if a baby is born by Caesarean section it picks up a completely different cocktail of bacteria – not the lactobacilli found in the birth canal but skin micro-organisms and bacteria that are floating in the air of the operating theatre. These latter bacteria have a different effect on the baby’s immune system and metabolism, resulting in a 20% increased risk of asthma and type 1 diabetes, along with a higher chance of autoimmune diseases, gut disorders and obesity.

In order to improve the health of babies delivered by Caesarean section, obstetricians are trying a new technique. During the last hour before the Caesarean, they place a small piece of sterile gauze in the mother’s vagina to soak up the bacteria-rich fluids. Then as soon as the baby is delivered, the doctor passes the gauze through the baby’s mouth and over their face and entire body. The aim is to inoculate the baby with the microbes it would have received if it had passed through the birth canal. And the procedure works! The gut bugs in the Caesarean baby now resemble those of a naturally delivered baby.

I believe this will soon become standard practice all over the world. But please don’t try this at home! Mothers need to be screened to rule out any infections that may be passed on to their child. My message is to become a wary consumer of modern medical practices. If you’re pregnant and might need a Caesarean, please speak to your obstetrician about how you can give your baby the friendly bugs they need for an optimally healthy life.

* To read other HEB’s in the gut series click below:

Showing 10 comments
  • Narelle sheppard

    I must say I had a gut feeling this was going to all come out. unfortunately when I had my babies by c section as instructed they didn’t have this proceedure in place, so reading this leaves me sad and worried for my children.

    • Helena Popovic

      Dear Narelle, the last thing I wanted to do was to leave you feeling sad and worried. Even though our microbiome is largely established by the age of 3 years, it is in constant flux and it’s never too late to cultivate a more robust ecosystem. Think of a garden. Continue to fertilise, water and plant new seeds. In answer to your question about what your children need, follow the principles of good gut health that I outlined in my response to Shauna. The most important thing is to avoid processed foods and to have nurturing supportive relationships. Bizarre as it sounds, our emotional wellbeing goes a long way to keeping our microbes happy. You are obviously a loving and caring mother. This fact alone helps to strengthen your children’s immune system and feed their microbes what they need.

  • Narelle

    So what do we do to our babies who were delivered by c section as instructed to, but didn’t receive this treatment?

  • Jan McIntyre

    This is a real positive in the light of so many children (then adults) with an increasing amount of gut issues.
    I know that by giving a newborn who has been birthed by caesarean section, access to a very high quality synbiotic , they have been helped enormously, through polulating their microbiome with trillions of good bacteria.

    • Helena Popovic

      Hi Jan,
      Thank you for bringing synbiotics to people’s attention. For those who are not familiar with the term, synbiotics are food ingredients or dietary supplements that combine probiotics with prebiotics, thus supplying both live microorganisms (such as lactobacilli) along with their nutrients (fibre-rich foods). As with most things in the area of gut health, people’s responses are very individual. I recommend that anyone considering a supplement consult their healthcare provider for what might be most appropriate for them. Even with the best advice, it’s often a case of trial and error.

  • Kim Stojs

    Wow. how wonderful. Thankyou for that bit of info.

    • Helena Popovic

      I’m glad you found it useful!

  • John Orrock Stewart

    Great information once again

  • Susie Haley

    How interesting, thank you for the information. This may well explain the soaring incidence of asthma, type 1 diabetes and allergies.

    • Helena Popovic

      Yes indeed it does explain a lot.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt