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Bacteria & Birth: Why They’re Good Together

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 88 Comments

Bacteria & Birth: Why They're Good Together

No Daddy’s In The Room, Please

I’m sure you are mature enough to handle this. You probably caught your firstborn child in your rough, manly hands and then nuzzled him/her against your chiseled, manly chest while giving your gorgeous wife a postnatal foot massage. It’s not you I’m worried about.

Truth be told, I’d just be more comfortable if I could talk with my fellow mamas alone for a few minutes. So help me out here and pretend your supersecret Batman pager went off and slip out quietly, okay?

(Scans room) . . . . Alright mamas, looks like it’s just us now. A couple of weeks ago I made a promise to tell you how to promote healthy digestion and immune function in babies. I am going to keep that promise today and will be using lots of fun words like vagina, cream applicator, and suppository. Bless your heart, you deserve some practical DIY info after listening to me rave about letting your baby eat bugs. So let’s get down to business, shall we?

Wait, Why Does This Matter Again?

Micah, 1 week old

The fancy term is Micrometabolic Imprinting in Infancy, which basically says that despite what Purell would like us to believe, we need bacteria in and on our bodies to survive. You can read more about this symbiotic relationship here, but I’ll give you the the cliff notes version:

When they pass through the birth canal, babies get a “first meal” of good and bad bacteria from their mother. (If they are delivered by caesarean the bacterial profile changes with less beneficial and more pathogenic stuff . . . a topic for another day.)

When we have primarily beneficial bacteria in our birth canals it provides babies with the strains they need to digest food, keep pathogens in check, support the immune system and even create vitamins such as K2. On the other hand, pathogenic bacteria can cause diarrhea and colic in the short term, with more serious effects later on.

“Long-term consequences of neonatal intestinal dysbiosis may include allergies, asthma, increased susceptibility to infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and colon cancer.

Olmstead, Snodgrass, Meiss and Ralston:  Micrometabolic Imprinting in Infancy

So despite the widespread belief that everything within a 100 mile radius of our newborn baby should be sanitized, boiled, or wrapped in plastic, introducing bacteria is really a vital milestone in promoting a baby’s health. But not just any bacteria! GOOD bacteria!!

Unfortunately, we live in the age of stress, antibiotics and junk food, so a birth canal populated with beneficial bacteria is not something most of us should take for granted (including me). So on your baby’s birth day why not give them the gift that will last a lifetime . . . a properly colonized birth canal. Yep, I really said that. Isn’t it a wonder Hallmark hasn’t snatched me up to write greeting cards by now?

Oh, you want suggestions for how to actually do this??? Well, here you go!

Easy At-Home Methods for Introducing Beneficial Bacteria to the Birth Canal

Many moms choose to do one of these methods on a daily basis in the last weeks of pregnancy:

  • Insert unpasteurized, plain yogurt or kefir into the vagina with a small spoon or spatula or v@ginal cream applicator. Insert at night and wear a pad.
  • Insert a probiotic suppository using an encapsulated probiotic supplement such as Biokult. No need to take the probiotic out of the capsule

Ideas For Nurturing Beneficial Gut Flora After Birth

  • Don’t bathe your baby too often! Newborns that have passed through the birth canal have their mothers good AND bad bacteria on their eyes, mouth, ears and hands that go in the mouth. As mama breastfeeds she will pass on antibodies to fight the pathogenic stuff. However, if this bacterial mix is washed off and the baby acquires a different set of pathogenic microbes (say if the baby is taken to a nursery and washed, then exposed to a blanket that has foreign pathogens on it), the process for keeping pathogens in check becomes more complex. Baby has to pass the microbes to mama, who makes the antibodies and passes them back to baby. It’s a lovely system when babies get older, but in their first days it’s better to avoid that scenario and allow their bodies to recuperate from the birth experience.
  • If at all possible, breastfeed. Studies show that the beneficial strain bifidobacteria is predominant in breastfed infants, while formula fed infants “possess a more haphazard microbiota that includes Bacteroides,staphylococci, E. coli, clostridia, and bifidobacteria.¹  
  • And take YOUR probiotics! Mothers have specific immunological mechanisms that ensure the transfer of their own enteric bacteria to their babies, so make sure you’ve got the good stuff to give!

Next time we’ll talk about nourishing older babies and toddlers with yummy, probiotic rich foods (Coconut kefir AND healthy soda? Oh my!)

What did I miss? What do you want to know more about?

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88 Responses to Bacteria & Birth: Why They’re Good Together

  1. Cravings: Follow your child’s lead. | Nourishing Our Children says:

    […] this happens trusting our cravings is like trusting a faulty compass. Though gut flora is established at birth and can be affected by antibiotics, stress, and diet, it can also be positively influenced by […]

  2. Jacelyn says:

    Now that your tea is hopefully taking effect let’s think on that last thought for a moment. – Direct vaginal contact with chemicals, dyes and perfumes. If you apply Aloe Vera gel on the affected areas it can help reduce the itching and burning caused by the infection.

  3. 7 Causes of Diaper Rash and How to Treat Them Naturally | The Mommypotamus | organic SAHM sharing her family stories and recipes says:

    […] thrives. Unfortunately, most of us have had more than a few rounds of antibiotics growing up and we may pass on these imbalances via the birthing process. Did you have any idea? I certainly didn’t when my first child was […]

  4. Kimberly Laird via FB says:

    Great article!

  5. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Thank you, Kimberly Laird! <3

  6. Annie Johnson via FB says:

    Good information

  7. Stephanie Warren Rodgers via FB says:

    Kayleigh Davis good info!

  8. Vanessa Peng Lutz via FB says:

    Great article! I would love if you could write an article about what to do if a c-section is necessary.

  9. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Vanessa Peng Lutz – I’ve been thinking I need to do a whole series on birthy stuff. Vitamin K shot, eye ointment, etc. Will add it to the list!

  10. Jennifer Wentzell via FB says:

    Is this on Pinterest? I’d love a link :) Need to get this ‘out there’…

  11. Kimberly Laird via FB says:

    A birth series would be awesome!

  12. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Jennifer Wentzell – Yes, ma’am!

  13. Jennifer Wentzell via FB says:

    Thanks! I know the saying, ‘Do better when you know better’, but I STILL wish I had known with my three kids… We did no baths and had home births, but we could have done better. Thanks for the wealth of knowledge.

  14. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Jennifer Wentzell – I feel the same way! I did things differently with each of my births due to what I’ve learned over the years. <3

  15. Brandis says:

    I have a quick question… I know you said you’d get to colonizing c section babies later, but I would love a tiny bit of info on that now. My sister just had to have a c section and on top of that her baby had to go to the NICU, so she didn’t even get to SEE him for like 5 hours, let alone spend time skin to skin. He’s big and full term and otherwise healthy, but he had a growth in his lungs that was inhibiting his breathing, so they had to take care of that. She’s been pumping (and producing plenty, esp for a brand new first time mom, she was pumping 2oz at a time the first day!) so I can only imagine that once he can eat he’ll get breastmilk, but at the moment he is being fed through his IV because he’s intabated. So he’s going to need plenty of help once he gets out of the hospital. My sister is totally on board with all this stuff but is understandably too tired and overwhelmed to be thinking about these things right now, so what should I tell her to give him? Just regular kids probiotics? Any other tips? Thanks, and btw awesome post! I’m also pregnant and my #1 concern with this child (my 3rd) is healthy gut flora, because my first two had food allergies and their related issues when they were younger (which we healed through diet!). The more I read the more it seems like literally EVERYTHING is connected to gut flora- digestion, general immunity, brain function, likelihood of developing chronic illness, pretty much every health related thing I can think of. So you’ve given me a few more tools to hopefully give my baby the best chance at a good colonization at birth- thanks!

  16. Lindsay Haczynski via FB says:

    One of the things I disliked about my son’s hospital birth is how they bathed him right away. They took all the vernix and my smell off him. I feel that’s why we struggled a little bit with breastfeeding in the beginning. If I have another child I plan to not be in the hospital.

  17. Jessica says:

    Love this. I worked really hard to prep my birth canal and tested neg for strep B the second time which was so exciting.
    However my son was born in the caul. I’m wondering if this prevented him from getting those good bugs??
    If so I might ask them to break my bag next time.

  18. Tiffany says:

    Hi there, I was wondering What your thoughts were on the antibiotics they drop in newborns eyes after the come out of the womb? They say it’s important as to prevent infection from bacteria in the birth canal, but I am not convinced.

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