"Seeding" a newborn's gut recently appeared in mainstream media with an article in the Daily Mail. The topic and practice has been studied and reported on significantly in the last few years. The following guest post from Toni Harman, professional documentary filmmaker and co-creator of Microbirth, the acclaimed documentary released last year that investigates the latest scientific research on how childbirth can impact bacteria in the infant gut and how it affects life-long health. The film garnered lots of attention and praise for its research and for shining light on an overlooked health matter. We're pleased to bring you more information on the importance of "seeding" and hope you'll investigate it further for yourself by checking out Microbirth, as well as taking a peak at two informative articles on our sister blog, Science & Sensibility: "The Healthy Birth: Dyad or Triad? Exploring Birth and the Microbiome" and "Unintended Consequences: Cesarean Section, The Gut Microbiota, and Child Health."
When a baby is born, two events happen simultaneously. There's the obvious main event, the arrival of a new human into the world. But there's another event happening at the same time that is critical for lifelong health and immunity.
This other event is microscopic and invisible to the human eye. It is the “seeding and feeding” of the baby's microbiome.
To explain what this means, let me talk you through the science. Our bodies are comprised of trillions of human cells and trillions of bacteria. The human cells and bacteria work together to keep our bodies functioning and help protect us from disease.
As the womb is a near-sterile environment, the critical seeding of the baby's microbiome occurs during the birth process. As the baby passes through the birth canal, it is covered in its mother's bacteria. Some of this bacteria is swallowed and arrives in the baby's gut. The first bacteria to arrive in the gut helps to establish the gut microbiome and also trains the baby's immune system.
Science has shown that the best way to “seed and feed” the baby's microbiome is through vaginal birth when possible, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.
Although often life-saving, when a baby is born by cesarean section, the process interferes with the natural seeding process. (More recently, mothers who give birth by cesarean are requesting baby's mouth be "seeded" or swabbed with her vaginal fluid. This can be performed by doctors or by the mother herself. Though there is yet to be a study confirming any benefits from this practice, it can be filed under "can't hurt, might help.") This could be why there's an increased risk of babies born by c-section developing asthma, celiac disease, diabetes and obesity later in life. This was the subject of our last film, Microbirth, winner of the Grand Prix Award at the Life Sciences Film Festival. But that's not the end of the story.
Our new film A Probiotic Life reveals that a child's microbiome stabilises sometime between the ages of 2-3. This means the period between birth through infancy is the critical time window for microbial exposures. The ideal would be for every child to develop a rich, diverse, balanced microbiome to help protect that child from disease for the rest of its life.
The latest science has linked, in some way, an imbalance with the human microbiome to an ever-growing list of conditions, including allergies, asthma, diabetes, bowel disorders, obesity, some cancers, and because of a gut-brain connection, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even autism.
A Probiotic Life explores the latest science revealing what we can all do from birth throughout life to help protect, restore and rebalance our microbiome for the best possible lifelong health.
We believe every parent and every birth educator needs to understand the critical process of seeding, feeding and nurturing the microbiome from birth through infancy. This crucial time period could be the key that helps unlock future health.
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Toni Harman and Alex Wakeford (co-creators of Microbirth) are parents to a 7 year old girl and documentary filmmakers. Their goal is to make films that make a tangible difference in people’s lives. Over the past six years, they have made four feature-length films that have been distributed internationally including CREDO a psychological thriller (2008, 90 mins – released as THE DEVIL’s CURSE by Lionsgate in the US), DOULA! a documentary about doulas (2010, 60 mins), FREEDOM FOR BIRTH a documentary about human rights in childbirth (2012, 60 mins). Their last film MICROBIRTH (60 mins, 2014) about how the way we give birth impacts the baby’s lifelong health – won the top prize, the Grand Prix Award at the Life Sciences Film Festival in Prague.