G - Gut Health
In the last decade or so, gut health has been a hot topic. More research is being done and we are starting to understand the gut-brain connection.
Why is it important during the postpartum period and what effect, if any, does it have on baby?
Gut health consists of effective digestion and absorption of food, absence of GI illness, normal microbiota, good immune system, and well-being. The gut microbiome makes up roughly 70% of the immune system and influences health during our lifespan and potentially for generations to come. The three main roles of gut health are “protective, metabolic, and trophic” (Yang). If the microbiome consists of beneficial bacteria, this can prevent and treat many illnesses and diseases (Health Foundations). The good bacteria are Probiotics.
Probiotics are found in the digestive, urinary, and vaginal tracts. Specifically speaking of pregnancy and postpartum, healthy vaginal flora is crucial to baby’s health and gives baby’s immune system a great start (Health Foundations).
Once baby is born, probiotics can be transferred to baby through breastmilk or even given to baby directly. The benefits are vast and include the prevention and treatment of allergies, asthma, eczema, food sensitivities, colic, and other illnesses. It’s even said that exposure to probiotics in the first three years of life can have impact on weight, mental health, chronic disease status, and autism later in life (Tietje). By the end of the third year, a child’s gut microbiome is generally the same as an adults.
To help your new baby’s gut blossom beneficially, there are a number of steps you can take.
First, limit who touches baby. Yes, that may mean you tell that sweet old lady at church she can’t hold baby until week three or four. Another way to do this is to limit who handles baby while still in the hospital. You can simply ask that only you or your partner change baby’s diapers, hold baby, and do baby care rather than the nurses (Tietje). I’m sure they’ll even appreciate it!
Second, breastfeed baby and breastfeed as often as he or she needs. Don’t put him or her on a strict schedule. Mom should take a probiotic that contains the b. infantis and b. lonhum strains of bifidobacteria (Tietje). These will pass through the breastmilk to baby.
Finally, don’t wash off the vernix, and don’t bathe baby for at least a week. Rub the vernix in. This will help to establish a healthy gut (Tietje).
It has also been found that the mode of delivery for baby has influence on his or her gut flora. Vaginally born infants tend to have more Lactobacillus, Prevotella, or Sneathia spp. and by three months more Bifidobacterium and Bacteroides, which are health protective bacteria. Surgically born infants tend to have more Staphylococcus, Corynebacteria, and Propionibacterium spp. and by three months lower Bifidobacteria and Bacteroides spp., which have more disease potential (Yang). But don’t fret, there’s steps you can take to benefit baby’s gut flora if he or she was born via cesarean.
Vaginal seeding is one option. This is when a cotton gauze with the mother’s vaginal fluid is swabbed around and in the mouth, nose, and skin of a newborn with the purpose of transferring the vaginal bacteria to the newborn. This is most beneficial if labor never started or membranes never ruptured before the cesarean was performed (ACOG).
But, if you are already postpartum and don't have the option for vaginal seeding, you might also consider limiting Baby’s exposure to antibiotics unless absolutely necessary and introducing or upping the dosage of a probiotic supplement when antibiotics are used. Obviously, you’ll want to discuss this with your doctor first.
Research is still being conducted and there’s still a ton to learn about the gut-brain connection but we are starting to find that a healthy gut from birth may lead to better brain development resulting in effects on “cognition, anxiety, mood, and sociability” (Yang).
Moral of the story, talk to your health care provider about beneficial probiotic supplements for you and your baby.
Health Foundations Birth Center. “Benefits of Probiotics in pregnancy, postpartum, and for baby.” 4 Feb 2014. https://www.health-foundations.com/blog/2014/02/04/benefits-of-probiotics-in-pregnancy-postpartum-and-for-baby. Web. Retrieved 19 Sept 2018.
Tietje, Kate. 17 June 2015. “5 Ways to Help Your New Baby Develop Optimal Gut Flora.” https://modernalternativemama.com/2015/06/17/5-ways-to-help-your-new-baby-develop-optimal-gut-flora/. Web. Retrieved 19 Sept 2018.
Yang, Irene et al. “The Infant Microbiome: Implications for Infant Health and Neurocognitive Development.” Nursing research 65.1 (2016): 76–88. PMC. Web. 20 Sept. 2018.
ACOG. “Vaginal Seeding.” Nov 2017. https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Vaginal-Seeding. Web. Retrieved 20 Sept 2018.
Allesanda received her Bachelors in Behavioral Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in December 2013. She now lives in North Texas with her husband and children. As a doula and educator of infant sleep and eco-friendly living, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.