Recent research tells us that the manner in which your baby is born has a significant and long lasting effect on your child’s health. This research comes from a deeper understanding of the microbiome, which is defined as all of the microorganisms in and on our body. Some 30 trillion beneficial bacteria call our digestive system home, and our large intestine is particularly prime real estate.
Where and when did we get all these bacteria? In a vaginal birth, the infant makes its journey down the birth canal, which is loaded with such helpful bacteria as Lactobacillus, the same kind of bacteria that is in yogurt. These are the first bacteria to colonize the baby’s gut.
In a caesarean birth, the child’s initial exposure to bacteria is the air of the operating room and the mother’s skin. The problem is that hospitals are not as sterile as they are supposed to be. In fact, they host some of the most dangerous bacteria in the world.
Numerous studies now show that children who had caesarean or C-section births have a significantly higher incidence of: asthma, allergies, celiac, and autoimmune diseases, as well as obesity. In Denmark, the records of almost 2 million children were examined over a 35-year period and a strong correlation was found between caesarean birth and asthma. The risk of developing asthma after a C-section birth is 20% higher than a vaginal birth. While other factors such as genetics and air pollution play a role, many researchers feel that the lack of the introduction of certain friendly gut bacteria during caesarean birth is an important cause of the recent increase in childhood asthma and allergies.
Until my wife and I wrote Gut Crisis, we were under the impression that C-section births were relatively infrequent, but we were wrong. In countries like China, over 50% of all births are caesarean. That’s a lot of babies. In private hospitals in Brazil, the number rises to 80%. Italy has the second highest caesarean birth rate in Europe with 38%. In the US, over 30% of all births are caesarean.
The early introduction of bacteria help to educate the immune system of the infant’s gut to distinguish between “good” and “bad” bacteria. If the immune system is deprived of this education, the child is far more likely to develop a number of different diseases.
Doctors are researching a new procedure for caesarean infants called the “gauze-in-the-vagina” technique. In this procedure, a piece of moist gauze is inserted into the mother’s vagina about an hour before surgery. As soon as the baby is born, the gauze is wiped all over the body, including the inside of the mouth, around the eyes, and the skin from head to toe.
Preliminary studies on caesarean birth show that infants who have undergone this procedure have excellent results. And the main types of bacteria in these babies are similar to those in infants who had a vaginal birth.
What can mothers do?
- Avoid a C-section unless it a medical necessity.
- If you must have a C-section birth, ask your doctor if there are approved procedures to help colonize your baby’s gut with friendly bacteria.
- Breastfeed your child. Studies show many valuable benefits, including a positive effect on the microbiome, a subject which we will talk about in a coming blog.
- If you have had your child by C-section, consult your doctor or a qualified health expert for advice on how you can help restore your child’s microbiome through the right probiotics and a healthy diet.