Microbes that colonise your baby's body from birth are still measurable years later and may have a long-lasting impact on his or her health.
Bizarre stories of babies born by Caesarean section being smeared with their mother’s vaginal fluid is part of a larger debate around microbiome health, writes Omeshnie Naidoo.

How are your microbes today?

You know that you’re covered in thousands of them, right?

These little organisms make up your unique ecosystem and you acquired most of them at birth.

Science is able to prove that many of the microbes that colonise our bodies from the moment we enter the world are still measurable years later and may have a long-lasting impact on our health.

However, these teeming colonies of bacteria differ and childbirth makes all the difference.

Babies that pass through the birth canal are covered in mommies’ "intelligent" microbes while babies born via C-section tend to be colonised mainly by less beneficial skin microbes.

This is where the smear technique comes in and where skin-to-skin theories are derived. After all, the infant will pick up microbes from everyone and everything, and hospital bacteria aren’t quite what it needs.

You want to give your baby your bacteria and then your breast milk to ensure you’ve seeded the microbiome necessary for optimal health.

Without the right microbial mix, their immune system may not develop correctly, leading to a host of long-term health problems.

Here is how to build a strong infant microbiome:

Stay healthy during your pregnancy: maintain good gut health by avoiding highly processed foods and unnecessary antibiotics. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise.

Find a doctor and caregivers who support your views – information on the infant microbiome is relatively new.

Aim for a natural birth. If a Caesarean section is necessary don’t refuse, but given the opportunity, opt for a vaginal birth.

Vaginal swabbing does sound bizarre. However studies show that if done right after birth, a C-section baby has a chance of having a similar microbiome profile to one born via the birth canal.

Avoid unnecessary medication, such as antibiotics before and after delivery (for you and baby), as these can wipe out the good bacteria that are trying to colonise in your baby’s gut.

Breastfeed exclusively for six months. It will give your baby the best microbial start at life. Studies show that exclusively breast-fed babies have healthier microbiomes than formula-fed infants and that introducing any formula changes the microbiome quickly.

When it’s time for solids, introduce nutrient-rich foods that will help them (and their microbes) grow and develop. Provide whole foods, fruit and vegetables.

* Little Life Pregnancy and Baby Workshops will take place at Life Hilton Private Hospital; The Crompton Hospital (in Pinetown) and Life Westville Hospitals on Saturday from 8.30am to noon.

Expectant parents are welcome. There will be a variety of free educational talks by experts in their respective fields on baby- and pregnancy-related topics.

Refreshments will be served and there will be lucky draws and prizes.

For more information and to book seats, call Lisa Thomas in the Life Healthcare KZN Regional Office at 031 536 3813 or e-mail [email protected]