by Dr. Lawrence Hoberman
Newborns and gut bacteria are rarely part of the same conversation. In my decades of medical experience and research focused on beneficial gut bacteria, I’ve learned how important newborn exposure to bacteria can be to health issues and conditions later in life.
Whether a baby’s delivery is natural or by Caesarian section, both mother and baby benefit from maintaining a healthy balance of beneficial gut bacteria. However, for C-section deliveries that can be a big problem as key bacteria may be missing.
Importance of Gut Health
Research is showing more and more that “gut health” impacts overall physical and mental health. An imbalance of bacteria in the digestive tract appears to be a cause of depression and other psychiatric disorders, as well as physical ailments such as colic, obesity, allergies, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Baby’s first introduction to the environment is through the vaginal canal, and the mother’s intestinal bacteria are very important for a newborn baby. It’s a different situation with a C-section. There, the bacteria in the environment can be strep, staph and some of the other bugs in the delivery room. This gut health challenge puts those babies at a higher risk for many health problems due to a lack of diversity in their gut microbiomes.
A recent Swiss two-year study compared the health of 24 babies delivered vaginally and by C-section. Babies birthed by C-section had less gut diversity—a lower range of good gut bacteria—during the first two years of their lives compared to babies born vaginally. Also, C-section babies had a chemical imbalance in their blood that made them more vulnerable to developing allergies.
A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found infants who were born via C-section had a gut microbiome resembling the mother’s skin (less rich in bacteria) rather than the gut.
One way to address this bacteria imbalance is with probiotics. The scientific definition of probiotics is, “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer health benefits on the host.” In everyday speech, they are supplements, containing beneficial bacteria or yeast that are primarily found in human digestive tract and that promote healthy intestinal function and general well-being.
Probiotics have been shown to strengthen the immune system. They are a safe, simple, non-drug solution that protects and enhances the bacterial diversity in the baby’s gut. Probiotics also can help quiet the prolonged crying and discomfort due to colic and other digestive problems.
For children who are prone to ear infections, the overuse of antibiotics can further deplete beneficial bacteria, creating unintended digestion problems later in life.
Probiotics from Food
Fermented food such as yogurt, kefir, sourdough bread, miso, sauerkraut and even dark chocolate can add probiotics to the diet. However, the processing of many of those foods takes away their effectiveness.
Yogurt is the most popular, but consumers should be sure that the yogurt contains beneficial, live cultures. Also, part of the process in making commercial yogurt includes pasteurization to kill any harmful bacteria, followed by adding bacteria in amounts that may or may not make a difference to health. Many yogurts contain dairy fat, sugar and/or artificial sweeteners, which can create their own health problems.
Receiving bacterial benefits from foods, in most cases, requires preparing them at home. Also, making a dent in gut bacteria through food consumption alone requires most people to change their diet substantially.
One of the most effective ways to build up beneficial bacteria in the gut is to take a daily probiotic made from multiple strains of beneficial bacteria. It’s a method that I’ve been advocating and making available for decades. It’s a far more effective way to treat a wide range of health problems, from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to colic, than from eating foods that contain only limited amounts of beneficial bacteria.
Fortunately, there are probiotic supplements that even babies can take. It’s a good option for any newborn, especially those born by C-section, to help him or her get on the right track with a viable, healthy balance of gut bacteria.
Lawrence Hoberman, M.D., has spent more than 40 years practicing medicine and is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology. He is currently in practice at Health by Design, 13409 George Rd. in San Antonio (www.healthbydesign.com). Dr. Hoberman also developed the probiotic supplements EndoMune Advanced Probiotic and EndoMune Junior Advanced Probiotic. For more information on the benefits of probiotics, visit www.endomune.com.