Birth methods matter. The way we come into the world, may crucially shape the complex ecosystem of the human gut that influences our health for life, according to new research recently published in the scientific journal Nature.
A seven year study in Britain shows that babies delivered by caesarean section have fewer gut microbes of their mother, and more bacteria from the hospital environment, than those babies delivered vaginally.
Along with the birth mode itself, antibiotics delivered during birth also shape which bacteria set up shop in an infant’s gut, the study suggests. In many places, mothers who undergo C-sections receive antibiotics to prevent infections. Along with removing potential threats, these drugs can kill helpful bacteria. In the study, babies born vaginally but whose mothers also took antibiotics had fewer helpful Bacteroides bacteria.
Birth might be a defining moment for the human immune system, which is shaped by our gut bacteria, said clinical associate professor Nigel Field, one of the researchers. “The hypothesis is that the moment of birth might be a thermostatic moment for the immune system…which ‘sets’ the immune system for life.”
The researchers examined tens of thousands of faecal and blood samples collected from mothers and babies in Britain, looking at what kind of bacteria were in babies’ guts in the early days of life with further sampling weeks and months later. While their findings are ‘ground-breaking’ the scientists caution that the implications are yet unclear.
The microbiome is a complex ecosystem of millions of microben. The first weeks of life are a critical window of development of baby’s immune system, but little is known yet if and how these differences in microben lead to health issues. Previous research suggests that lack of expose to some bacteria in early life implicated autoimmune diseases as asthma, allergies and diabetes. But scientists have not yet been able to work out how important the initial gut microbiome – or “baby biome” – is to future immunity and health, or how a baby’s microbiome develops, or what happens to it with different modes of birth.
However, Bangladesh needs to pay close attention to this study and future follow-up research on the impact on child birth practices on the immune system, as C-sections are booming in the country. Between 20014 and 2016 the rate of C-sections went up from 4 to 31%, which is way above the recommended 10-15% range of the World Health Organisation (WHO).