Human health can be profoundly affected by events at birth and the establishment and maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome is one of the most important variables. Infants are born with an essentially sterile gut which is quickly colonized with bacteria. The method of delivery has a significant impact. For example, an infant born by c-section will have an early gut flora more influenced by the hospital environment, whereas one delivered vaginally will have a generally healthier flora derived from the vaginal canal (assuming mom’s is healthy). This is one more reason to be very cautious in the decision to deliver by c-section. (while keeping in mind that c-section can be life saving and is very appropriate in some cases)
One of the best arguments for the importance of probiotics and prebiotics is provided by breast milk. It is wonderfully designed by the creator to be the perfect food for newborns. Among many benefits, it includes oligosaccharides and free nucleotides (prebiotics) and probiotics. A formula fed infant will usually have a predominance of Bacteroides fragilis in its gut while a breasted infant will have a healthier flora composed mostly of bifidobacteria. Formula makers have added prebiotics to their products but likely will never reproduce the health giving properties of breast milk. It’s common knowledge that breast milk bolsters an infant’s immunity to disease by transfer of IgA antibodies. Less well known is the impact on a newborns immune system via development of healthy gut flora. Will take up that subject in the next post.