The gut microbiome develops from the moment we are born. Whether this is vaginally or by caesarean section has significant effects on the diversity of our gut microbiome – born vaginally, and our gut will closely resemble our mother’s. Born by c-section, and our gut microbiome will look an awful lot more like the colony of bacteria found on our mother’s skin, which is lacking in significant types of very useful bacteria.

The bacteria within our gut help to shape and regulate brain development. Mice raised in a germ-free environment are more antisocial, have a hugely increased response to stress and an increase in the volume of the hippocampus region of the brain. These are all very similar characteristics to autistic children, and there is a strong link between autism and gut disorders, along with a growing body of research that suggests certain gut bacteria cause or exacerbate many of the signs of autism and depression.

Stress reduces the diversity of our microbiome. A diverse microbiome is linked with sociability, cognitive performance and a reduction in inflammation of the brain. Even pre-natal stress causes a reduction in our gut microbiome that persists into adulthood, and early exposure to antiobiotics (under the age of six months) is linked to IBS, diabetes, obesity and increased pain sensitivity in adulthood, thought to be due to the destruction of key populations of the bacteria that help to prevent these conditions from developing.

So what should we do?

  • There is a growing body of practitioners and countries that recommend vaginal swabbing for c-section births – this involves daubing the newborn baby with the mother’s vaginal secretions moments after the csection is performed, to populate the baby’s gut with the mother’s gut microbiome.
  • After antibiotic use, a course of probiotics could limit the negative consequences and ensure a healthy proliferation of useful bacteria in the gut.
  • Maintaining gut health from a young age through eating the right foods and nourishing the right gut bacteria is hugely important.
  • The occasional treat of cocoa has many health benefits.
  • Avoiding stress in pregnancy is vital – for planned pregnancies, having a good system in advance for when you want to take maternity leave helps, but life isn’t under our control at the best of times so stress management is the best solution, whether it be meditating, deep breaths, planning a holiday or exercising, make sure you have procedures in place for dealing with stress.
  • As always, make sure your child gets as much variety in their diet as humanly possible when dealing with strong-willed little ones. A mix of veggies and fruits combined with multiple sources of protein and carbs. See this post on the best mixes of foods to maintain a healthy gut.