As humans, we depend on microbiomes to stay alive. Microbiomes are essential in fighting off germs and maintaining health. The development of microbiomes begins in utero where the microbes have been isolated to the placenta, fetal membranes, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord blood, but are mainly transferred from mother to child during birth in a process referred to as “seeding” (1,2). “Seeding” occurs as the child passes through the mothers vaginal canal and becomes coated in her microbiome. In addition to this, small amounts of microbiomes get transferred to the child as the mother breastfeeds. This early introduction from mother to infant serves as an inoculation process with long term health outcomes for the newborn (2). With the number of cesarean births being higher this decade than in the past, you may find yourself asking, “How does a cesarean birth affect my child’s microbiomes?”
With vaginal births still being the most common way of delivery (68%), these children are seen to have overall better health throughout their lifetime than those born via cesarian (2). Vaginal birth is the most effective way to spread the microbiomes to the child’s skin, but studies have found that microbiomes do differ between ethnic groups. Microbiomes are made up of multiple bacterias and specifically, women with a higher pH have a smaller community of protective biomes. It has also been seen that the gut microbiota in pregnant women with gestational diabetes, tend to have an increased abundance of disease-associated microbes (2). That being said, the pH and mothers gut microbes play a significant role in the types of microbiomes that get transferred to their child.
There are generally two ways a child ends up being born via cesarean, labor ending in a cesarean, or a planned cesarean with no labor attempted. Children who are born via cesarean with labor attempted first, have a slightly higher number of microbiomes due to the vaginal fluids exposed to them during labor than that born elective cesarean. The most effective way a mother can transfer microbiomes to their newborn via cesarean is to “incubate” a cloth for 1 hour in their vaginal canal. When the infant is born, the doctors rub the child’s mouth, eyes, and skin with the cloth that was previously incubated within minutes after birth (2). This process ensures that the child will have microbiomes more closely related to those born vaginally. Children born elective cesarean without using the incubation method, show fewer gut microbiomes related to their mother, but rather have more skin and oral microbes, and bacteria due to the operating room (2).
Children who are born via cesarean, whether labor was attempted first or not, are more likely to develop immune-related disorders such as asthma, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and obesity (2). This is directly linked to not being “seeded” by the mother. Furthermore, adults who were born via cesarean contain a fecal microbiota that is drastically different than adults who were born vaginally (2).
The purpose of the female reproductive system is to reproduce and birth. Therefore, the best route will always be vaginal if it is safe for baby and mom. This being said, a cesarean is not a bad way to bring a child into the world. The child will just face more skin irritability and have a greater risk of developing health issues due to not receiving the same microbiomes as a child born vaginally. – Kenna Vaughn, Health Coach Insight
(1) Aagaard, Kjersti, et al. “The Placenta Harbors a Unique Microbiome.” Science Translational Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 21 May 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4929217.
(2) Dunn, Alexis B, et al. “The Maternal Infant Microbiome: Considerations for Labor and Birth.” MCN. The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5648605/.