Newborns And "Good" Gut Bacteria

Study reports that vaginal births and breastfeeding can deliver beneficial germs to babies

birth-bacteria-at.jpg Jeff Lipsky

We've all heard the buzz about healthy gut bacteria (probiotics, anyone?). Well a recent study has found that Cesarean sections and baby formula may disrupt the "good" bacteria in newborns' intestines, according to a New York Times report on a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Time magazine quotes one of the study's authors as saying, "Our goal is to show that the decision [to have] an elective C-section may cause changes that parents can't see but nevertheless affect development."

These certain gut microbes have been linked to healthy digestion, bowel regulation and a stronger immune system, the article says. People without these microbes are at higher risk for allergies, asthma, cancer and inflammatory bowel disease, as quoted by The New York Times report.

"A team of Canadian researchers collected samples [dirty diapers] from newborns at birth and again at 3 months. They found that many children who were delivered by C-section all but lacked a group of critical bacteria found in those who were delivered vaginally," according to The New York Times article. In addition, formula-fed babies had less-diverse gut flora and more of the bacteria linked to the development of allergies in comparison to breastfed babies, according to the study.

These findings support past studies, which have suggested that there's a vaginal advantage: Entering the world via the vagina exposes babies to several kinds of beneficial bacteria, including Lactobacillus. You may recognize the name because it's also found in yogurt and other food sources.

C-section babies arrive coated with bacteria varieties from the skin of the people in the delivery room, not just from mom.

More research is necessary, but the study cites that it's possible that the bacterial composition will change as a person ages, making up for the low levels of good bacteria as a newborn.

Remember that "good bugs" make for a healthier pregnancy. Our Dirt on Bacteria page tells you how bacteria help with digestion and your immune system.

Feeding breast milk to your baby does more good than you think. Check out our Liquid Assets page to see 18 benefits that may surprise you.