Why Exposing Infants to Microorganisms is a Good Thing

Many studies have strongly suggested that the trillions of microorganisms that live in the human gastrointestinal tract influence our health. If there are any disturbances in this 'microbiome' this can influence the function of the immune system.  These variations can lead to problems with the immune system and the function of each cell in the body.

AIM Blog Post Portrait Exposing Infants to Microorganisms

Cesarean section deliveries, limited breast feeding, antibiotics during pregnancy and antibiotic medications in the newborn and early childhood ages can distort the microorganisms in the baby's gut and can affect health issues in children and adults, such as autoimmune disorders, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea or constipation, reflux and even autism spectrum disorders.

According to a recent New York Times article, "A Danish study of two million children born between 1977 and 2012 found that those born by cesarean delivery were significantly more likely than those born vaginally to develop asthma, systemic connective tissue disorders, juvenile arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, immune deficiencies and leukemia."

It is important to understand these issues in order to prevent problems after your baby is delivered.  Vaginal birth and breast feeding can affect the type and number of the gut organisms.  When a baby is born vaginally, they acquire the organisms that migrate into their GI, urinary and respiratory tracts.  While these organisms may be foreign to the human body, they work synergistically to maintain cellular function, energy, digestion and metabolism.  With the current C-section rates of 1 in  3 deliveries, these problems should be anticipated and discussed with the mom.  Other than documented fetal distress, position in the womb and maternal medical issues, there is no reason to explain this huge rise in C-section rates over the past 20 years.

While some women who deliver via cesarean are opting to try new methods, such as vaginal seeding - a procedure during which medical staff transfer microbes from the mother’s vagina to their infants soon after birth - but an expert committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently warned that the practice was premature and possibly hazardous. Breast-feeding is still the best and safest way to expose babies born by C-section to their mother’s bacteria. 

If your baby was not delivered vaginally, then your pediatrician should encourage you to breast feed exclusively, eat a clean healthy diet and administer probiotics – the 'good guy' bacteria to your infant.  This will help recolonize the gut with all the micororganisms missed by not traveling through the vaginal canal.  Breast feeding supports the immune system in the baby therefore those babies are less likely to have GI, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, and skin rashes which are very often triggered by exposure to certain foods.

To learn more about the benefits of exposing your infant to microorganisms, you can read the complete New York Times article, here.