Studies have shown that at one month of age, both breast-fed and formula-fed infants possess bifidobacterium but population densities in bottle-fed infants is one-tenth that of breast-fed infants. The presence of a healthy and robust population of bifidobacterium throughout the first year or two of life contributes significantly to the child’s resistance to infection and overall development of defense systems – not to mention the physical development of the intestinal system in general. Aside from the substances secreted by these specific bacteria that are known inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, they also work to make the intestinal environment of the infant more acidic, creating an additional barrier against invading pathogens. In short, breast-fed babies are sick less, are less fussy, have fewer and shorter duration of bouts of diarrhea, and have more frequent – and softer – bowel movements. (source)Cesareans can save lives, but they also put babies at increased risk for infections, allergies, asthma, intestinal problems, skin problems (such as eczema) and future health problems. When there is an absence of breastmilk, those potential problems can become exacerbated.
What are the best ways to ensure a healthy and strong population of gut microflora for your baby?
* Give birth vaginally.
* Keep baby and mother together immediately following birth (to prevent the colonization of harmful bacteria, especially when giving birth in the hospital).
* Breastfeed as soon as possible following birth and frequently thereafter.
* Consume probiotics (in foods or supplements) yourself during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
* Avoid giving your infant antibiotics, if possible.
* Give birth in a location far-removed from harmful bacteria, if possible.
I was delighted (not long after giving birth to my son at home) to discover a study whose results indicated: "Term infants who were born vaginally at home and were breastfed exclusively seemed to have the most 'beneficial' gut microbiota (highest numbers of bifidobacteria and lowest numbers of C difficile and E coli)" (Penders, J, et al, Factors influencing the composition of the intestinal microbiota in early infancy). I wasn't surprised by those findings one bit. It has been informative and eye-opening to see how much impact the events following birth can have.
My first daughter was born vaginally in the hospital, lifted-up briefly for me to see following her birth, taken to the other side of the room to be weighed, poked, smeared, wrapped, and finally brought to me. We were talked into giving her formula during her first night because she wasn't latching well. We did establish a good latch with the help of the lactation consultants and some contraptions. We stayed in the hospital an extra day largely because of my perineal trauma (we spent two nights there). Of all my children, she was the most irritable/fussy. She was also the only one to experience troublesome eczema and diaper rash as well as frequent bouts of croup throughout infancy and childhood. She is also the only one of my children to exhibit a possible food allergy.
My second daughter was born vaginally in the hospital, placed immediately on my chest, breastfed exclusively following birth, and spent barely over 24 hours in the hospital. She experienced only minor diaper rashes, no eczema, has never developed croup, and rarely gets sick.
My son was born vaginally at home, placed immediately on my chest, spent his first hours at my chest and breast, and never entered a hospital. He developed a skin infection a week after birth, but recovered quickly (through oral and topical antibiotics, but I chugged probiotics to prevent thrush and other problems). I have consumed more probiotics while breastfeeding him than I ever have before. He has been my least fussy baby and has never needed diaper ointment nor developed eczema.
The more I learn, the more convinced I am that what happens during and after birth matters A LOT. Do you think you baby's postpartum gut microflora had an impact on his/her behavior or health short-term or long-term?
Allergies, Asthma, and Eczema: Response to Disturbance of the Microbiota of the Newborn Gut
The potential for probiotics to prevent bacterial vaginosis and preterm labor
Improved appetite of pregnant rats and increased birth weight of newborns (following probiotic feeding)
Probiotics may aid postpartum weight loss
Probiotics during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, and their impact on immunity
Probiotics in infants for prevention of allergic disease and food hypersensitivity