July 2012

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It is an example of the elegant symbiosis between mother and child: at birth a mother provides her child with the building blocks of his or her lifelong inner ecology, now referred to as our microbiome. 

Nature has created all the steps necessary for this to happen in succession from the first trimester to a vaginal birth and then continuing through breastfeeding. Parallel advancing studies in the microbiome as a whole and its genesis at birth are leading to what may be the most beneficial knowledge of human health.

What is the Microbiome?

A microbiome is the totality of microbes, their genetic elements (genomes), and environmental interactions in a particular environment.

Predominantly, these microbes are found in the gut and are what help us digest and assimilate food. Some microbes have evolved to fight undesirable bacteria and some undesirable bacteria has evolved to proliferate when beneficial bacteria is low. In this way, they are in constant communication with our immune system and are the root of allergic and auto-immune responses. If you have a complex microbiome, you are well set to assimilate nutrients and fend off bad bacteria.

A Gift From Mother to Child

Studies have shown that the microbiome of a pregnant woman is different from other women. During the first trimester of pregnancy, there is a dramatic shift and the bacteria Lactobacillus, normally found in the gut, begins to increase in the vaginal tract. Lactobacillus is needed to digest milk. During birth, the lactobacillus coats the baby and the baby ingests some of it. These microbes then begin to colonize in the infant’s digestive tract, helping him or her to digest milk. In studies, C-section babies were colonizing strains of the more harmful bacteria found on our skin and in hospitals, Staphylococcus and Acinetobacter. Interestingly, in one study, the C-section babies were developing a general composition of bacteria found on the skin of all of the delivering mothers, whereas the vaginally delivered babies bacteria was like a fingerprint of the mother’s system.

The foundation of the microbiome continues to build via breastfeeding. Six hundred strains of bacteria have been found in breast milk along with sugars called oligosaccharides that babies cannot digest but which feed the beneficial bacteria, ensuring a strong and useful microbiome. “As the child grows and the microbiome becomes more ecologically complex, it also tutors the immune system.”

What Does This Mean for Pregnant Women?

Pregnant women need to be informed about the importance and many benefits of vaginal birth and breastfeeding. Of course, C-sections are an important life saving option in an emergency. The wonderful thing about this new branch of research is that in cases of C-section delivery or inability to breastfeed, we are gaining the knowledge needed to provide another chance to build a baby’s ecosystem if there is a re-route from the way nature intended this process.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Has Long Known a Child’s Health Begins In the Gut and With the Parents

TCM doctors are adept at diagnosing imbalances rooted in the gut and digestion, which is the most common root problem in children. If your child has digestive or other constitutional issues, or was born via C-section and you want to make sure he or she has the strongest beginning possible, a TCM practitioner can help. If you have questions, please feel free to call. We offer a free ten minute consultation so you will have time to ask your questions.



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