A recent study from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has shown that where and how a child is born has a great impact on their risks of developing asthma, eczema and allergies. The study followed children from birth to the age of seven, and compared the incidence of developing asthma, eczema or other allergies to how they were born. It was found that children born at home by vaginal birth were significantly less likely to develop asthma, eczema or allergies as compared to those born vaginally in hospital. The risk of both these groups is decreased as compared to those born by caesarean section in hospital. The study found that the location and type of birth directly effects the colonization of gut flora, which has a direct influence on the development of these conditions. That is, vaginal births equated to health gut flora babies, who have the lowest instance of various health conditions
Good bacteria in the gut are crucial for good health. A healthy gut flora reduces the risk of developing serious bacterial infections, improves the function of the immune system, provides important vitamins and aids in proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. The absence of healthy gut flora can lead to poor digestion, nutritional deficiencies, chronic colds and flus, increased risks of developing serious bacterial infections, eczema, asthma, allergies and countless other conditions.
During pregnancy, a fetus grows in a sterile environment. The womb protects it from exposure to most bacteria and viruses. During natural childbirth, an infant is first exposed to bacteria in the vagina. The vagina contains a myriad of beneficial bacteria, which, as the infant passes through, are swallowed and incorporated into the gut, and become the foundation of the infant’s natural gut flora for life. Due to the necessity of a sterile environment during caesarean section, this transfer of bacteria is absent.
Hospitals, by their very nature, are the home of many disease-causing bacteria. These bacteria are present in the delivery room in microscopic amounts, despite every effort made to exclude them. Clostridium difficile, one particularly competitive and disease-causing bacterium, was the focus of examination in this study. This antibiotic-resistant bacterium is found predominantly in hospitals and nursing homes, rarely in the home, and is resistant to most types of disinfectant agents and techniques. It most commonly infects patients with low immune function and poor gut flora, which translates to infants, the elderly and people who have a serious illness. Researchers found that infant exposure and subsequent gut colonization of C. difficile drastically increased the risk of developing asthma, eczema and/or allergies.
So the question arises; how do you ensure healthy gut flora in your infant? While vaginal home birth was shown to be the best option, it is not the right choice for everyone. How and where a woman gives birth is, and should be, her decision. As such, there are a number of ways to ensure good gut flora in a new baby regardless of how and where it was born. The first is to ensure that mom has good flora, both intestinally and vaginally. This can be done by reducing or eliminating the amount of antibiotics given during pregnancy and childbirth, and through good pre-natal care and gut health management. Breast feeding also improves the gut flora of an infant by providing a number of beneficial bacteria as well as an environment that favours the growth of ‘good’ bacteria. Supplements for both mother and baby can greatly improve infant gut health, when monitored by a trained health care provider. The timing and types of food introduced to a toddler can also have a great impact on the development of gut health and allergies. Foods should be introduced based on the development of both the digestive system and the immune system, which are greatly associated with the development of gut flora. If a food is introduced prior to the system being able to properly digest it, allergies and other conditions can occur. With support and education from your health care provider, you can help reduce your new baby’s risk of developing eczema, asthma and other allergies.
For a healthy and happy baby, call today and book an appointment with one of our naturopathic doctors.
Frederika A. van Nimwegen, John Penders, et al., Mode and place of delivery, gastrointestinal microbiota, and their influence on asthma and atopy, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Available online 27 August 2011, ISSN 0091-6749, 10.1016/j.jaci.2011.07.027.