The microbiome is a new term that describes the trillions of microscopic organisms—bacteria, viruses, and fungi—that normally inhabit our bodies. They coexist with us and help keep us healthy. The current estimate that humans have about 10 times as many of these organisms living with us than we have actual human cells..
These organisms live on our skin, inside our mouths, and inside our digestive and reproductive tracts as well. They help us digest food, maintain our reproductive system, and protect us from infection. You might think of the organisms that live on our skin as taking space, and blocking bad, infectious bacteria from becoming too prevalent and causing infection.
One mark of being healthy is having a healthy “mix” or balance of organisms scattered throughout our bodies. When the balance is disturbed, we are more prone to infections, digestive problems, and metabolic illnesses such as diabetes and obesity. There is strong evidence that a healthy microbiome is important to keep us in good humor, and out of depression.
The microbiome of babies has been extensively studied as well. The results are that disturbances in the microbiome of a baby may cause diseases that only show up later in the child’s life, such as obesity, and problems from an over-active immune system, such as asthma. It seems that microbiome disturbances can change how the actual genes of the baby are “expressed”, or function.
A study was published 15 June 2016 in the journal Science Translational Medicine about how to keep a baby’s microbiome healthy. The researchers, from New York University Medical Center, followed 43 infants and their mothers for the first 2 years of life, taking periodic stool samples from both baby and mothers to study the organisms.
For a healthy microbiome
1) Natural vaginal birth
When a baby is born through the vagina, he is coated with billions of microorganisms from the mother’s vagina, that start the baby off with a healthy microbiome mix. A cesarean birth bypasses this process, leaving the baby unprotected by the helpful organisms.
2) Avoid antibiotics in early life
Sometimes antibiotics are necessary, but they kill many helpful organisms as well as the “bad” ones.
3) Breast feeding
Babies fed infant formula instead of a mother’s natural breast milk were also found to have a deficient microbiome.
In conclusion, to help give a baby a healthy microbiome, the best approach is vaginal birth, breast feeding, and only using antibiotics when they are really necessary.
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