Food, Pregnancy and Your Baby’s Gut Bacteria
Your microbiome, the bacteria living in your digestive system, mouth, vagina and on your skin is incredibly important for good health.
As unique as your fingerprint, your microbiome contains thousands of different bacterial strains, some healthy and some not so healthy. These bugs live symbiotically with you as their host. You give them a home while they provide you with all sorts of benefits, keeping your digestive system happy, regulating and educating your immune system, combatting inflammation and even influencing your mood and behaviour.
Your microbiome is shaped throughout life by food, medications and even your stress levels, but the starting point of your microbiome originated from your mother.
The microbiome in early life is incredibly important. If your baby’s microbiome is not healthy, they may be more likely to suffer from eczema, asthma, allergies, mood disorders and immune system issues such as autoimmune diseases as well as ADHD and autism spectrum disorder.
In this blog you’ll learn about this precious gift from a mother to her baby
Your Baby’s Microbiome
The seeds of the infant’s microbiome are sown when they are still in the womb. Science has found bacteria from the mother pass into her amniotic fluid and to the foetus.
During birth, bacteria from your vaginal walls will pass to your baby and further populate your infant’s gut. In the early months of your baby’s life, bacteria will be transferred in breastmilk as well as from your skin.
Infant Microbiome and Disease
The microbiome in early life forms the foundation for health, particularly a balanced immune system. Parts of your gut bacteria as well as substances produced by your microbiome will transfer through your placenta, preparing your baby’s immune system before birth to train it to deal with microbes after birth.
If healthy bacteria can’t flourish in your baby’s gut, they may have an increased risk of developing diseases such as allergies and immune issues but also behavioural problems, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Studies have now isolated some specific beneficial strains of bacteria particularly connected with immune health and allergies.
Your Diet and Your Baby’s Microbiome
The types of bacteria flourishing in your microbiome will determine the health of your baby’s gut bacteria. Your microbiome is affected by your food choices before and during pregnancy.
One recent study showed the mother’s diet during pregnancy affected the composition of her infant’s microbiome for at least eighteen months.
Scientists compared mothers’ eating habits during pregnancy with their baby’s gut bacteria at birth and monitored their infant’s health until they were eighteen months old. They discovered mothers who ate more fibre-rich plant foods containing antioxidants called polyphenols, and plenty of omega 3 fatty acids, had increased numbers of a species of bacteria better at producing a substance called butyrate, known to support gut health and reduce inflammation.
Mothers whose ate more carbohydrates, animal protein and saturated fats had guts containing high numbers of a type of bacteria more normally found in the mouth. These women needed c-sections more often than the other group of women and were given antibiotics more frequently for pregnancy complications.
The infant’s microbiomes paralleled their mother’s at birth, demonstrating how important it is for the mother to have a healthy microbiome during pregnancy and delivery.
The babies’ microbiomes at birth were connected with their health as they grew older. For example, babies born to mothers with a high carb/high saturated fat-associated microbiome were more likely to be overweight by eighteen months old.
How to Have a Healthy Microbiome
The easiest way to ensure you gift a healthy, balanced microbiome to your baby is by paying attention to what you eat during pregnancy. Your microbiome naturally alters in late pregnancy because changes are needed in your immune system’s natural response, so ideally it’s important to nurture a healthy microbiome even before pregnancy.
- Beneficial strains of gut bacteria love to feast on plant-based fibre, so aim to cover half your plate with a wide array of colourful vegetables. You’ll be loading up on fibre as well as beneficial polyphenols.
- Avoid the temptation to snack on refined sugar – this encourages unfriendly strains of bacteria.
- Enjoy fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut. These contain healthy bacteria, encouraging a balanced microbiome.
- Try to relax, because stress adversely affects your microbiome. Pay attention to your sleep quality – lack of sleep is a major source of stress.
- Consider taking a probiotic supplement containing beneficial bacteria naturally resident in the gut.
Functional Medicine for You and Your Baby
If you’re pregnant or planning for a baby and you suffer from gut issues, asthma, eczema or allergies, it’s a good idea to establish a healthy gut and vaginal microbiome ready to deliver your baby into the world.
I will support you in nurturing your microbiome prenatally, while breastfeeding and for your child, using personalised nutritional and lifestyle strategies. Functional tests can be useful to find out which bacteria are living in your microbiome and identify any imbalances you won’t want to pass onto your baby.