The Gut Biome of a Baby

I hope there’s bone broth in that cup!

With all this talk about gut health (not just talk coming from me, but the growing awareness of in general), combined with my recently increased interest of the gut health of a baby, for obvious reasons, it occurred to me that much of what we read is re-active, rather than pro-active.

In other words, since 80% or more of us Americans already have leaky gut, the focus has largely been on what to do to heal it as well as address consequences of it, not how to prevent it.

Unless you’ve been living in a modern day hunter-gatherer society and eating accordingly, chances are your gut has already been affected by this faux food / modern day convenient style of eating, so we have to start where we are and focus on fixing…. when it comes to our own guts as well as that of our older kids + family member.

But what about baby?

What a wonderful opportunity to create optimal gut health before your baby is even born, and as a result, to save him or her the cascade of ill health effects that can occur.

Think back to some of the health issues you may have endured personally, be them physical, emotional or both.

Go way back; problems breastfeeding when you yourself were an infant? Or even earlier, how did you come into this world? Did you know there is a strong correlation between gut health and natural childbirth?

Being born by cesarean section has been tied to higher risks for various health problems in children, one of which is that babies also have fewer “good” bacteria in their digestive tract (1). Children who had been delivered by C-section had less diverse flora, lower levels of Shigella bacteria and none of the bacteria known as bacteroides at all. Shigella and bacteroides are organisms picked up from mom and considered first colonizers, which lay the foundation for further microbes that become part of our normal microbiome.

Vaginal delivery, however, fosters the growth of trillions of good bacteria that reside peacefully in the human body (collectively know as a person’s microbiome), many of them in the intestine.

Meanwhile, C-sections interfere with the newborn’s exposure to bacteria in the vaginal tract, bacteria that essentially trains the immune system to react appropriately to future events, according to study background information.

Mothers who have C-sections also tend to start breast-feeding later and require antibiotics, both of which could also affect the baby’s microbiome.

Of course, circumstances can arise during childbirth which can pose risk both to mom and to baby, and in these cases, C-sections may be the safest option.

But did you know that in the US, the rate of elective C-sections is the highest in the world, at a rate of over 30%?

Women in the US can elect to have a C-section simply because they feel it will give them more control over childbirth than waiting to go into labor naturally. They can choose the day, they can choose the surgeon, they know exactly how it will happen (2).

It brings pause for thought: are these moms to be told the potential long term consequence of the unnatural birth when performed for non medical reasons?

And it’s not only the baby who can suffer; women who delivered vaginally showed more activity in certain areas of the brain linked to emotions and parenting behaviors compared to the six moms who had elective C-sections. The researchers suggest that vaginal birth stimulates the more rapid release of the “love hormone” oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during active labor and delivery. It’s been shown to be a factor in mother-child bonding.

Some research has linked C-section delivery with higher rates of postpartum depression, and this may be due to the discrepancies in oxytocin release (3).

After C-section delivery, mothers who have an epidural might be unable to hold and breastfeed their babies immediately after surgery.

Plus, babies born via C-section are sometimes a bit drowsy, due to the anesthetics. And since mom was also likely given antibiotics, which can cause thrush, baby is exposed to all of the above as well.  The icing on the cake? After a C-section, breastfeeding can be increasingly challenging during the first few weeks, leading some moms to give up due to concern about baby not eating enough and switching them permanently to formula, which, no matter how pure the product, will never be the equivalent to mom’s milk.

Of course, making sure that mom’s milk is of the highest calibre is of utmost importance. So how and what can a new mom eat to ensure her breastmilk is providing the optimal nutrient density for the baby?

Not surprisingly, focusing on the very same gut biome boosting foods that we humans can all benefit from eating regularly, while avoiding inflammatory foods is key.

  • Copious amounts of local, in season, organic plants (mostly veggies, but for breastfeeding, a slight increase of carbohydrate from fruit balanced out with fat in each meal creates an optimal balance)
  • Mindfully sourced proteins in moderate portions. Wild game, grass fed meat and wild caught low Mercury fish all work well. Sourcing is tantamount in order to be sure neither you nor your baby are being exposed to hormones, steroids, harmful bacteria and GMO grains.
  • Good fat, good fat and more good fat. Fat rich foods such as eggs from hens raised on pasture, fatty cuts of pasture-raised pork, grass produced butter and fatty fermented foods such as high cacao dark chocolate all contain fat soluble antioxidants and other nutrients which are healthful to mother and fetus.
  • Organ meats. Rich in folate (not to be confused with the synthetic form – folic acid) is critical to the development of healthy babies in the womb. The Weston A. Price Foundation (4) recommends 3-4 ounces of liver, 1-2 times weekly as ideal for pregnant women, based on the practices of ancient tribes. Consuming folate through liver is especially important if you’re following a Paleo-style diet, which can eliminate most other food-sources of folate. Worried that pregnant moms shouldn’t eat organ meats because of risk of Vitamin A toxicity? While Vitamin A toxicity and deficiency are both very serious, it’s important to understand that the likelihood of hyper-vitaminosis A is quite low. One must consume an acute one time dose of 500,000 IU or a repetitive intake of 25,000 IU/day for several months. (A large serving of liver may reach the 25,000 threshold, but it must be consumed for several months for toxicity to set in.)
  • Bone Broth. Easily assimilated in the body, the golden elixir truly is a panacea for a postpartum mom who has literally given most of herself to form the baby and now has to nourish baby through bouts of exhaustion. With literal loads of blood-building properties to restore the blood and fluid lost in giving birth as well as minerals and nutrients to strengthen the body, it’s also deeply hydrating for breastfeeding moms who require extra fluid intake for breast milk production. The cartilage found in broth helps with strengthening the bones and supporting tendons and joints postpartum.
    Want an extra bonus? (As if setting the stage for optimal health for your baby needed a bonus!) Eating in this manner (as in, eating real food), will also fast track your body’s path back to its pre-baby weight… unless you already ate this way all along, in which case, you didn’t likely put on more than you needed in the first place.

PS: As I’ve mentioned before, but will mention again from time to time: this article, and all my pieces on my blog are intended for your use as a resource, not medical advice for your specific circumstance.

Best words of wisdom to impart: if your doctor isn’t listening to you, or is eschewing the importance of what you’re eating and its effect on pregnancy, whether or not your baby is breastfeeding… or is suggesting a scheduled C-section for any reason other than a medical necessity, it may be time to find a doc who has a more holistic approach.

Your health, and your baby’s, depends on it!

Sky-high C-section rates in the US don’t translate to better birth outcomes