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Pregnancy The Human Microbiome: Understanding bacteria

Pregnancy The Human Microbiome: Understanding bacteria - One of the most coherant and well defined and articulate articles that I've read in a long long time.  Every single point that is made here is vitally important, not only during and birth of your child, but through out life in general.  Understanding good and bad bacteria,  "anti" bacterials, "anti" biotics, and the where when and how that they interact WITH your body- both inside AND out- is a fundamental basis of taking charge of your health.

Pregnancy The Human Microbiome

The Human Microbiome: considerations for pregnancy, birth and early mothering
Pregnancy The Human Microbiome

The human microbiome is rather fashionable in the world of science at the moment. The NIH Human Microbiome Project has been set up to explore correlations between the microbiome and human health and disease. To date the human microbiome as been associated with, amongst other things obesity, cancer, mental health disorders, asthma, and autism. In this post I am not going to provide a comprehensive literature review – this has already been done, and the key reviews underpinning this discussion are: Matamoros et al. (2012) ‘development of intestinal microbiota in infants and its impact on health’and Collado et al. (2012) ‘microbial ecology and host-microbiota interactions during early life stages’. Instead I am going to focus on what this means for pregnancy, birth, mothering and midwifery.

What is the human microbiome?

Based on a chart by Matamoro et al. 2013. Adapted and extended by Jessie Johnson-Cash.

Based on a chart by Matamoro et al. 2013. Adapted and extended by Jessie Johnson-Cash.

Considerations for mothers and midwives

The following are not research based recommendations – the research is yet to be done. They are more considerations/questions arising from the developing knowledge around the human microbiome. There are quite a few health practitioners writing about gut health currently – one of my favourites is Chris Kresser because he includes references if you want to read the source of his information.

Pre-conception and Pregnancy
Pregnancy The Human Microbiome

The commonly accepted belief that the the baby inside the uterus is sterile (whilst membranes are intact) is now being challenged. It seems that maternal gut microbiota may be able to translocate to the baby/placenta via the blood stream (JimĂ©nez et al. 2008; Metamoros et al. 2013; Prince et al. 2014; Rautava et al. 2013; Zimmer 2013). Women’s gut microbiota change during pregnancy and this impacts on metabolism (Koren et al. 2012; Prince et al. 2014). So ideally women need to head into pregnancy with a healthy microbiome and then maintain it. Unfortunately our modern lifestyle is not very microbiome friendly, and many of us have dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut bacteria). Dysbiosis and too much of the ‘wrong’ bacteria has been linked to premature rupture of membranes and premature birth (Fortner et al. 2014; Mysorekar & Cao 2014; Prince et al. 2014).
Pregnancy The Human Microbiome


    You are what you eat… and you are the microbiota that you feed. Eat foods that nurture your microbiome: don’t eat toxins; eat fermentable fibres – starchy vegetables such as sweet potatos – they are microbiota food; eat fermented foods – kefir, sauerkraut etc. – they provide probiotics. Dietary probiotic foods may also assist with balancing vaginal microbiota (Hantoushzadeh et al. 2012; Rautava et al. 2013).
  •     If your gut is damaged heal it and restore the balance of microbiota. This may involve taking probiotics.
  •     Minimise stress. Stress messes with your gut microbiota – Chris Kresser explains how - and mother’s may pass on the effects of stress to their baby via bacteria (Bailey et al. 2011). Perhaps antenatal care should involve reassuring words and a relaxing massage rather than constant clinical testing and discussions about risk?
  •     Avoid antimicrobial skin products (eg. handwashes), and house cleaning products – you can watch a youtube explaining the FDAs concerns about such products.
  •     Avoid unnecessary pharmaceutical drugs (Bengmark 2012) especially antibiotics (Cotter et al. 2012). See Chris Kresser for more details re. antibiotics and what to do if you need to take them.
  •     Stop smoking (Biedermann et al. 2013).

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