Written by Avril Bowens
Avril is a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM), Nurse (RN), Birth Emergency Skills Training (B.E.S.T.®) Instructor, Birth Advocate, Preceptor, Mother, Herbalist, Motorcycle Adventurer and the founder, creator and owner of the Midwife Method and it’s signature year long program, Thriving through Pregnancy.
What is a microbiome anyway?
The microbiome refers to the 100 trillion microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi) that live on and within us and are critically important to our overall and lifelong health. I know, it seems strange that bacteria could play such a crucial role in our own health, but it is true! In fact, without being covered by trillions of healthy bacteria - all inhabiting their own specific quarters on and inside the body and carrying out their own critical functions - we would quickly be consumed by disease-causing pathogens, nutrient deficiencies, and a whole host of other problems.
Wow, right!? Who knew?
There are about 1000 different kinds of microorganisms that live all over our skin, in our passageways (such as the nose and ear canal), under our fingernails, inside our mouths, all through the digestive tract, and inside the vagina.
They typically dwell and thrive in specific places in our bodies - happily carrying out many beneficial functions including creating vitamins (Vitamin K - important in clot formation - and several B-vitamins), digesting foods, fighting off other unhealthy or unwanted bacteria, facilitating healthy brain function and orchestrating the immune response. When a thriving healthy microbiome exists, it makes it difficult for bacteria that don’t belong there to take over - thus reducing the chances of an infection developing.
What are the benefits of a healthy microbiome?
Optimal digestion resulting in the extraction of more nutrients from foods consumed as well as the production of vitamins (Vitamin K and several B-vitamins).
Protection against autoimmune disorders (arthritis, diabetes, muscular sclerosis, etc.), inflammatory disorders, obesity, cancer (especially intestinal cancers), intestinal disorders, skin disorders, metabolic disease, asthma, allergies, depression, anxiety, and autism.
- Improved immune response resulting in fewer infections and fewer trips to the doctor’s office.
- Healthy development and function of the nervous system.
- Improved weight maintenance, freedom from cravings, and appetite control.
6 steps to establishing a healthy microbiome for your baby
Tend to your own microbiome with a low/no sugar, nutrient-dense, whole-foods diet
Think of your microbiome like a little garden that you gain massive benefits from when you use the right stuff to water, feed, and fertilize it regularly. You should wash with water, use soaps only under the armpits and around the crotch, and do not use vaginal douches. Drink lots of water and eliminate all beverages with sugar (including concentrated fruit juices). Feed your microbiome with lots and lots of vegetables and fruits of all shapes and colors (easiest way to ensure you are getting the whole range of vitamins and minerals) and fertilize with live yogurt, fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and a high-quality probiotic). Additionally, supplement with fish oil/omega oils, and prenatal vitamins during and after pregnancy. Sugar is the number one worst enemy of a healthy microbiome because it feeds the ‘bad’ bacteria causing them to multiply and fight for real estate with the healthy bacteria. It takes time (like 3 weeks to 3 months), for the microbiome to shift, so stay with it!
Have your baby vaginally if you can
Your vagina is literally your baby’s first exposure to bacteria and a process called colonization: the initial establishment of a microbiome, and once established, can be challenging to change. As the baby passes through the vagina, it is covered in your vaginal bacteria (which incidentally increased in diversity during pregnancy). I know this sounds gross, but this is how nature intended babies to be colonized. The right microorganisms live there as long as you spend your pregnancy tending to your own microbiome. ☺
If your baby is born via a cesarean delivery
If you find yourself in need of a cesarean birth, breastfeed as soon as possible and for as long as possible, and/or supplement your baby with probiotics. You may not like it, but there is another possible solution: you can ask your hospital staff about ‘seeding’ your baby with your vaginal bacteria.
Breastfeed for as long as you are able
Breastmilk is a ‘living’ and dynamic food. It is packed full of all the nutrients your baby needs, in the right quantities, and shifts and changes according to your baby’s growth and development. It is also packed full of healthy microorganisms which help to colonize the inside of your baby’s intestinal tract. Breastfeeding is an incredibly important step to establishing a healthy microbiome in your baby with not only the milk exposure but the skin exposure too. So please reach out to your local La Leche league or lactation consultant for the support and resources you need to succeed! If you can not breastfeed, don’t worry - you can supplement with prebiotics and probiotics, and you can still get the benefits of skin-to-skin exposure while bottle-feeding. ☺
Refrain from washing your baby for the first three months! (yep, you heard that right!)
Babies are not dirty, nor do they typically get dirty. Even after birth, babies magically get clean after a few hours without washing. Vernix, blood, and other bits of this and that from the birthing process tend to disappear. Bathe your baby with clean water and leave the soap or other baby products out of the mix until they are old enough to get dirty! They do not need their hair washed either.
Avoid the use of antibiotics for you or your baby unless medically necessary
Find a doctor who is not on the antibiotic bandwagon. Viral infections and mild bacterial infections need not be treated with antibiotics. Thankfully, because of all the natural benefits you receive from a healthy microbiome when you invest the time to nourish yourself, you naturally decrease the necessity to depend on antibiotics.
With all these life-sustaining functions, how did microorganisms get such a bad rap? It was all a big misunderstanding caused by not knowing the whole story! We discovered that bacteria cause infection, invented antibiotics to treat said infections (which saved so many lives – a good thing) but failed to recognize that microorganisms do a lot of good as well! We are still learning more and more about the importance of the microbiome but unfortunately, the overuse of antibiotics has already become the norm.
Invest in your own and your baby’s microbiomes! Take the time to nourish yourself and all your microscopic passengers for your own health and wellness and that of your baby.
To learn more about this and exactly how to thrive through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, visit www.midwifemethod.com. Check out the resource page and our comprehensive, holistic guides written to help YOU have the healthiest, happiest, most comfortable, and satisfying pregnancy possible. Follow us on Instagram @themidwifemethod and Facebook at the Midwife Method.
Certified Professional Midwife (CPM)
Birth Emergency Skills Training (B.E.S.T.®) Instructor
Visit her website at www.midwifemethod.com
Follow her IG @themidwifemethod
Rowland, I., Gibson, G., Heinken, A., Scott, K., Swann, J., Thiele, I., & Tuohy, K. (2018). Gut microbiota functions: metabolism of nutrients and other food components. European Journal of Nutrition, 1(57): 1-24. PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962619/
Mohajeri, M., Brummer, R., Rastall, R., Weersma, R., Harmsen, H., Faas, M., & Eggersdorfer, M. (2018). The role of the microbiome for human health; from basic science to clinical applications. European Journal of Nutrition. 57(1): 1-14. PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962619/
Sharon, G., Sampson, T., Geschwind, D., & Mazmanian, S. (2017). The central nervous system and the gut microbiome. HHC Public Access. 167(4): 915-932. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5127403/