STEM Tuesday: The Human Microbiome and Birth

Did you ever think about birth and breast-feeding as part integral to health and wellness?

I can hear your thoughts and see your eyes rolling:

What? Do you think I’ve been living under a rock?

Today, I sharing a bit about newborns and the Human Microbiome.

Yes, I still so excited about this international project that I start talking about it like an enthused conspiracy theorist. Yes, I see the raised eyebrows. And no, I didn’t get to go to the conference, which is going on right now. Meh. Oh well, I would have traveled on Mother’s Day and miss a wonderful day with family.

I’m not a kook.  it’s a  real bona fide study by National Institute of Health (NIH) 

Okay, so to review a little: we all have our own little microbiome that helps define who we are. Microbiologists call that our micro flora; it’s like a bouquet of germs: we have 10 times as many microorganisms that define us than human cells; so far, scientists isolated bacteria everywhere except the brain.


Babies are pretty much free of bacteria while they grow inside the womb. Something called the blood/placental barrier protects babies from most diseases and noxious agents while Baby develops. When Baby squeezes out through the birth canal, she inhales and swallows some of the mother’s microbiome, and of course, her skin gets covered by it. In other words, mothers not only passes down her genes from generation to generation, they pass down microbes to their offspring as well.

“We pass onto our kids, between us and their dad, about 23,000 or so genes. But these microbes infuse in about 4,000,000 genes. So we think about the scale in what makes our kids, you know, somewhat like us but so incredibly different, it has to do with probably these interactions between our DNA, our what we call epigenome, where the programmable portion of our DNA [is], and then our microbiome, and how these all fit together is going to be really, really interesting over time to learn more about.” Dr. Kjersti Aagaard of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston

Shortly after birth, babies born vaginally have the same microbiome as their mother’s vagina (and placenta) everywhere: their skin, their GI tract, in their mouths. Babies born by C-section have very different microbiomes. C-Babes’ microfloras are made up of mostly skin microbes, and not necessarily the mother’s.

Some experts believe C-Babes should be “seeded” with Mom’s microflora, just to get a leg-up on establishing a healthy microflora.

Why is this important? Our little bouquet of germs help us digest the food in our diet, impact our immunity and even help determine hormonal responses.

Baby’s mouth to Mother’s breast takes in beneficial lactobacillus for mother’s skin, which helps Baby digest milk. Another study at Cincinnati’s Children Hospital iindicates that there’s a reason babies get sick so often their first year of life. It’s possible their immune system is suppressed to give beneficial microbes a chance to get well established. That’s another good reason to breast feed, since Mom passes antibody’s on to Baby, which may help her set up just the right bouquet to provide a healthy microflora.

Have you ever seen a Mom pop a pacifier in her mouth after Baby drops it on the floor. Yuck. Right? Maybe not.

A recent study in Sweden showed that parents who clean  pacifiers with their own saliva have babies less likely to get asthma or eczema.

Eventually Baby develops her own unique microflora with different bouquets in the creases of the neck, in the armpits, in the mouth, behind the knee….. you get the picture, I’m sure. Each of us has a microflora as unique as our fingerprints.

We are getting to know more about our microbiomes every day.  Although there’s still a lot to learn, many scientists agree that the key to good health is maintaining a healthy bouquet of beneficial bacteria.

That could almost be me.
That could almost be me.