One of the most hot topics in birth research right now is the human microbiome. Those thousands of tiny bacteria that make you... well, you! In fact, your human self has more bacteria than human cells. An infant's microbiome has the very important job of training his or her immune system what is friend, and what is foe. It is your baby's first line of defense against disease. Set it up right at birth, and it helps protect your baby for his or her whole life. Setting it up wrong can have very serious life-long implications. Research has shown that 'setting it up right' is comprised of three main events: Vaginal birth, skin to skin after birth, and breastfeeding for a long duration. So what on earth do you do if you know you need a caesarean? Is your infant doomed for life?
Never fear, there is hope! The following ideas can go a long way to improving your baby's microbiome.
- Ensure Mum's microbiome is healthy during her pregnancy and breastfeeding duration. A healthy diet, exercise, decreasing stress, getting out in nature, and avoiding antibiotics and antibacterial products can all boost numbers of the good guys.
- Hold off the caesarean section until labour has begun, and preferably waters have broken. Baby then will be able to have some 'seeding' from the vaginal bacteria as he or she would have had in a vaginal birth.
- Ask for a 'gentle caesarean' to be done. More can be found about this option on the internet.
- Mum has skin to skin in theatre with baby as soon as possible. If Mum cannot, then Dad.
- Ask for heaps of breastfeeding support. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and then (as well as feeding baby food) breastfeeding for as long as possible (e.g. over 2yrs) will go a long way to setting up a health infant microbiome.
- Look into the newest research, and talk to your midwife about it. There are suggestions that artificially seeding baby's microbiome with a coated gauze swab at birth, and giving infants evidence-based probiotics can help. Probiotics contain lactobacilli (the same good bacteria that lives in the vagina), so giving them to baby may help boost their lactobacilli population. However I wouldn't recommend doing these options without the partnership of your health professional.
If you'd like to find out more about the importance of a healthy infant microbiome, check out Microbirth Online