Whether you are planning future children or have one already, it is never too late to boost the immune system. However, when starting from the womb, the foundation established can be impactful for a lifetime! The benefits of starting earlier includes minimizing colds/disease while establishing healthy inclinations. To better understand how to improve the immune system, let's examine the gut.
Between 70% to 80% of our immune capabilities originates from the gut. An infant's gut microbiome is nearly sterile, containing a small amount of microorganisms (archaea, fungi, bacteria, virus) which, can easily be impacted by how the child is born.
There are over a decade worth of research and documentation that show how an unbalanced gut biota is linked to allergies, infections, gut related disorders, and metabolic diseases. These disorders can be seen throughout Afro American children and other indigenous communities.
Although there is a lack of studies about gut health in Afro American children, my family has a history of allergies, infections, and gut sensitivities since infancy. With the little knowledge I had, I started taking meticulous steps to reduce the chances of a poor immune system for my child. The following four practices are part of my ideal birthing contract and were requirements for my prenatal team.
Vaginal birth is one of the baby's first bacteria ingestion
Vaginal birthing is one of the first ways a newborn ingests healthy bacteria that comes from a mother's gut. The Lactobacillus, and bifidobacterium bacteria families are typically the first to colonize an infant gut through a vaginal delivery. Their role is key from birth to adulthood. They carry lifelong benefits such as:
- Anti-inflammatory qualities
- Boosts immune system
- Decreases chances of colic, painful gas, constipation, IBS (irritable bowel movement) and other intestinal disorders
- Helpful in nutrition absorption (ex. Digest fiber)
- Promotes vitamin B production
- Produces Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA's; offers a whole range of benefits in itself)
- Protects infants' gut wall
- Improves brain health
What about c-sections? In some cases, an emergency C-section is needed to save lives though it risks exposure to hospital bacteria instead of exclusive maternal bacteria.
Within the gut biome of C sectional children, Enterococcus and Klebsiella bacteria is commonly found. These bugs originate from a hospital setting and may be correlated to infections in the eyes, spine, blood, kidneys, and other organs in the body to painful digestive problems commonly seen in infants.
Before a CS procedure, antibiotics like first-generation cephalosporin, is administered to reduce, or prevent hospital infections; endangering the mothers microbiome. From the placenta, antibiotic exposure harms the nearly sterile environment of an infants. Introducing probiotics early on is one solution that can help healthy bacteria colonize mom's and baby's gut microbiome.
Learning about the different methods of giving birth was super important to me. Being a women of color, I knew the risks of unnecessary c-section, preeclampsia, and high blood pressures so did a lot of pregnant-friendly preventive care to be prepared for delivery.
Delayed bathing naturally protects The microbiome on the skin
...And contributes to gut health.
Delayed bathing is an ancient art practiced amongst women for centuries! It can last between 8 to 30 days, making it one of the easiest ways to boost our baby's immune system from home; Benefiting the infant by reducing hypoglycemia, hypothermia, infections, and promoting temperature regulation, skin to skin, and breastfeeding initiation.
There's a period when newborns go through a peeling phase. It's completely natural in infant skin (especially brown babies!). Its essential to keep them moisturized in penetrable fatty oils like Avocado oil, or capacau butter to prevent dehydrated skin and atopic conditions.
I thank the Caribbean family for still following this practice and teaching me years ago about this method. Our delayed bathing journey lasted for 9 days with water wipes and butters when necessary. We had no foul smells, 0 infections, and no rashes. This also gave our baby button time to heal.
Since we used no cleansing solutions, we stuck with anti-microbial oils like grapeseed oil, or red Raspberry oil to gently cleanse, soothe, and used as a form of SPF protection for her delicate skin.
Breastmilk benefits the gut overall
In the first days of life, over 200 human milk oligosaccharides (HMO), pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor (PSTI), glycerol monolaurate (GML), pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) and other components of breastmilk are abundant to populate, feed bacteria, strengthen intestines, and offer protection from serious illnesses.
But some Mommas may not breastfeed and opt to use formula. Some formula brands may contain HMO and PTSI. Consult with a pediatrician or dietician for choosing the best formula closest to human milk.
Due to the lack of other important components in formula, it may put infants at risk for:
- Leaky gut
- Constant spit up's
- Heavy metal exposure
- Digestion sensitivity
- Hard or watery stool
- Infections (<36 new born's may be at risk!)
- And other risks
Pediatricians have the expertise to identify allergies and sensitivities for the best supplement that fit the needs of an infant. Sometime the physician may direct mom to put
Days before labor I ate high fiber oatmeal bowls, prolactin teas, and heart healthy oils. The night before my labor I had Haitian fish and vegetable rice with coconut water (and water), with an orange for a sweet vitamin C snack. My intention was to boost my energy and immunity before, during, and after labor. It also contributed to almost pain-free bowel movements as a bonus!
Skin to Skin is the easiest way to transfer bacteria
Skin to skin is one of the oldest and easiest ways to transfer bacteria. The less products involved, the better.
Skin to skin bacteria transfer can have its negative side if handled improperly. An example would be unnecessary hospital interventions that involves others holding a new infant. Typically hospitals are knowledgeable and respect the skin to skin method instead of immediate cleaning and tests. If not, this should be added to a birthing plan for sure.
My top was off and chest was exposed for the duration of our hospital stay while my infant was in nothing but a diaper and a blanket. Free of perfumes, scented oils, hair and skin products, my main objective was to cocoon her in my scent and bacteria. When it was her fathers turn, we made sure he was shirtless and done the same. I showered before the hospital and wiped (as needed) during my stay in hopes of lessening hospital germs. It just felt natural being within our dirty forms!
Following these four steps may improve bonding, milk production, gut health, positive skin benefits, and overall health. "All this for free?!" Yes! These priceless steps require mother, child, hands on with dad and minimal staff interference. It saves money and begins high quality health that invigorates generations!
Community Questions: Should prenatal health providers be responsible of informing pregnant women the link between bacteria and gut health? Why?
In my experience, my team did not inform me about improving my gut health when I was pregnant. My child had to experience pain in order for me to realize she had an issue which, made me feel awful.
I also did not know about the bacterial risks associated with c sections, probiotic benefits while breastfeeding, and developing the skin biome as early as possible. When I asked for risks associated with c-sections, there were no mention of taking probiotics nor exposing the child to antibiotics. They gave thoughtful advice on skin to skin but left out the benefits of dirt and natural scent.
These experiences reinforce my opinion that health care professionals should inform moms on these risks. As people inquire for natural and holistic ways to induce, healthcare professionals should provide a higher standard of information.