Whether you’re fat or thin, anxious or relaxed, sickly or resilient — this could all stem from the way you were born thanks to the effects of bacteria in our first few seconds of life. Babies born via c-section are shown to have less desirable gut bacteria, or a gut microbiome, compared to babies born vaginally, who have healthier microbiome “signatures.”
Results from the largest study of the newborn microbiome were recently published. The study found that newborns delivered via c-section lack the healthy gut bacteria found in vaginally delivered babies. Their guts also contain strains of harmful microbes — Enterococcus and Klebsiella — commonly found in hospitals.
In fact, the lead researcher said the levels of harmful hospital bacteria in the c-section newborns was “shocking.” These babies were also deficient in the healthy bacteria that made up most of the guts of the vaginally born babies.
The difference was so profound that he said he can tell you how the baby was born simply by analyzing the bacteria in their stool.
C-section babies missing strain vital for health, weight management, and immune resilience
After several months the gut microbiomes between the two set of infants became more similar with one striking difference — the c-section babies had significantly lower levels of Bacteroides, a strain vital to human health.
Bacteroides are a key strain when it comes to health challenges modern societies face. A number of studies have shown Bacteroides levels are lower in people with obesity. Studies in both mice and humans show that when gut bacteria from thin subjects are transplanted into the colons of obese subjects, most subjects lose weight.
Bacteroides has also been linked with preventing anxiety, and boosting and regulating immunity to prevent inflammatory disorders. This may explain why people who were born via c-section are at increased risk for obesity and asthma.
The study is part of a larger Baby Biome study that is following thousands of newborns through childhood.
Why method of birth affects the gut microbiome
Research suggests that the vaginal canal imparts beneficial bacteria to the infant during birth, while c-section babies are deprived of that and instead immediately exposed to the bacteria of the hospital and the people attending the birth. Studies are underway in which babies born via c-section are swabbed with the mother’s vaginal microbes.
Other factors to consider beyond birth
It may not just be the birth that determines a c-section baby’s poorer microbiome status. Women who undergo c-sections also receive antibiotics, which may transfer to the newborn through the placenta and later through breast milk. These babies also tend to stay in the hospital longer and thus are exposed to more hospital bacteria.
How to develop healthy gut bacteria
Developing good gut bacteria is not neccesarily as simple as taking probiotics. You may also be overrun with detrimental bacteria that need to be “weeded.”
Perhaps most important is whether your diet supports a healthy gut microbiome.
What the gut microbiome needs most is an ample supply of vegetables and fruits on a regular basis in a wide, ever changing variety. Eating a diverse and abundanat array of plant foods will help create a diverse and abundant gut microbiome.
Ask my office for more advice on how we can help you improve your gut microbiome and overall health.
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Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner