How women give birth may affect their babies' gut bacteria

If you're pregnant, then hopefully you've been doing things since your first trimester to ensure that your baby will be healthy. While you probably know that the things you do during your pregnancy will affect the health of your infant, you may not realize that your actions could affect your child's health all the way into adulthood. For example, researchers from the University of Alberta have found that the birthing method and feeding practices you choose could have an impact on your child for years to come. 

The scientists discovered that the development of gut bacteria in newborns is affected by whether their mothers have vaginal or cesarean deliveries and whether they choose to breastfeed

Small decisions make major impact 
The gut is teeming with bacteria, both good and bad, and these tiny organisms are no small matter. According to the researchers, gut bacteria helps digest food, regulate the bowels, protect against infection and stimulate the development of the immune system. However, little is known about how this gut bacteria is developed. 

The researchers examined 24 healthy infants as part of the larger Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study. According to the scientists, 25 percent of the babies were born by cesarean delivery, and 42 percent were breastfed exclusively. They discovered that infants who were delivered via cesarean did not have a specific group of gut bacteria that those delivered vaginally did, regardless of whether they were breastfed or not. Furthermore, babies who were only fed formula were also missing some important gut bacteria. 

"We want parents (and physicians) to realize that their decisions regarding c-section and breastfeeding can impact their infant's gut microbiome, and this can have potentially lifelong effects on the child's health," postdoctoral student and first author Meghan Azad said in a statement "The potential long-term consequences of decisions regarding mode of delivery and infant diet are not to be underestimated." 

She added that infants born by cesarean section have an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and asthma compared to those born vaginally. 

Rob Knight, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career scientist, wrote in a related commentary that these findings directly impact pregnant women and should influence the decisions they may regarding delivery and how they choose to feed their children after birth. 

Personal choice 
While the choice of how to deliver and what to feed their babies are up to pregnant women and their doctors, there are things to consider. First, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that breastfeeding promotes healthy babies and mothers, Breast milk contains nutrients and antibodies that can protect your baby. By the third to fifth day after birth, breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein that your baby needs. Furthermore, it's easier to digest than formula. Breastfeeding is also very cost-effective for new mothers, since it saves them from having to purchase formula, which can sometimes be expensive. 

The HHS adds that breastfeeding may also help moms reduce their risks of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. 

Of course, not all women are able to breastfeed, and there are many perfectly healthy babies that are fed strictly with formula, so don't worry if you find that breastfeeding isn't for you.

Were you unable to breastfeed or did you end up having a cesarean section delivery? If so, do you have any tips for mothers who find themselves in the same situations?  Leave your comments and words of support here!