In response to last month’s Health-e-Byte about Caesarean births increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, asthma, autoimmune diseases and gut disorders, I’ve received a deluge of questions about how to rectify the situation. Has the horse bolted? Are you destined for a life of chronic disease if you were born via Caesarean Section?
No! Establishment of a healthy microbiome (gut flora) is a process, not a one off event.
The last thing I wanted to do was cause anxiety or alarm. My goal was – and always is – to empower you. I was hoping you’d read the blog and think ‘Ah, that explains a few things. It isn’t that I’m doing something wrong. I (or my child) has simply had a different start in life.’
The other important point is that we sometimes need to question the need for surgical interventions. In the case of an emergency Caesarean, it’s obviously a life-saving procedure. But some elective Caesareans are not.
Caesarean rates in Australia have increased by 74% in the past two decades. We need to ask: why?
The trend towards more Caesarean births is only partly explained by women giving birth later in life. As maternal age increases and physical fitness decreases, so does the likelihood of high blood pressure, diabetes and other complications during pregnancy that might lead to a Caesarean. However women with private health insurance are also much more likely to have Caesarean deliveries than women in the public health system. And statistics from around the world suggest that mode of delivery is partly a cultural preference. In Brazil, 46% of deliveries are by Caesarean, in Australia 30%, in Scandinavian countries 17% and in the Netherlands 13%. Perhaps we need to look at what other countries are doing and learn how we can reduce the need for Caesareans.
So what are the most important things we can do to give our children the healthiest start in life, regardless of their mode of birth?
The first three years of life are the most critical period in which we establish our foundational bacterial species. However, all is still not lost if you were unable to do the following.
- Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. The earlier a child receives antibiotics the more it disrupts their gut flora and increases their risk of autoimmune diseases and obesity. Even in later life, question the need for antibiotics, especially in response to coughs and colds. Most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses against which antibiotics are ineffective.
- Children under three (in fact all of us) should not consume food additives, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners and food colourings because they adversely affect our good gut bugs.
- For the same reason, children under three years should avoid all processed foods with added sugar. Whole fruit and vegetables that you puree at home yourself are fine. Lollies, soft drinks, juices and packaged foods containing sugar are not fine.
- Try not to get your tonsils out before the age of seven years because our tonsils are also a training ground for the immune system, and early removal increases the risk of obesity.
I suspect that what I’ve just written only makes the situation seem more dire. I will expand on all these points in the coming weeks. And I promise a happy ending to the story!
* To read other HEB’s in the gut series click below: