A mother lies in a hospital bed and holds her newborn baby. She smiles.
A mother passes on more than just love at birth—she’s also the key source of important microbiomes for baby. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

I recently watched a short video and read an article talking about newborns and microbiomes. The world of microbiomes is a hot topic right now.

What is it, you may ask? We are filled with microbes, which live everywhere—on us and in us. Trillions of them.

Microbes include bacteria, viruses and fungi. There are 10 times more microbial cells in your body than human cells, and all these microbes make up the microbiome.

OK, so what does this have to do with birth?

We know this balance of microbiomes is affected by lifestyle, but it’s also inherited at birth from your mother.

Bonded at birth

Leading up to delivery, the mother’s body is preparing in many ways. One way is that the good bacteria—found in the vaginal canal, breasts, and on the body—are transferred to the baby during a vaginal delivery, as well as through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.

We now know this helps the baby’s immune system fight off bad bacteria, and it potentially decreases the baby’s chances of contracting diseases later in life.

We are sterile in the womb; it’s at birth and later that we acquire these microbes.

Researchers are now saying that our microbiomes adjust until age 2 to 3, and then they don’t change much until we’re 60 to 70 years old.

Research shows it’s important to have the right exposure to strengthen the child’s immune system for life. This again reconfirms the importance of skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.

Things like antibiotic use in small children is of concern to researchers. A professor in Chicago states it’s estimated that the average child younger than age 2 has had six courses of antibiotics, which affects the microbiome balance.

In an online post, filmmaker Toni Harmon cited a Cornell University immunotoxicology professor: “The latest scientific research is now starting to indicate that if the baby is not properly ‘seeded’ with the mother’s own bacteria at birth, then the baby’s microbiome … is left incomplete.”

Harmon continued: “Consequently, that baby’s immune system may never develop to its full potential, leaving that infant with an increased risk of developing one or more serious diseases later in life.”


How can we help our babies? Here are some tips:

  • Avoid elective C-sections, if possible.
  • Engage in skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and in the weeks after delivery.
  • Breastfeed.
  • Avoid antibiotics for children, unless necessary.

But what about a baby born through C-section? One solution being used is “seeding.”

In a current ongoing study at a New York City hospital, babies born via C-section are being “dosed” with the microbes from the mother’s birth canal. This “seeding” involves swabbing the mother’s vaginal fluid and placing it on the baby within two minutes of birth. This could introduce the microbiomes that the infant would otherwise be deprived of.

The results of this study will be very interesting. I’m curious to see what research will teach us in the coming years about our babies and their immune system.