Maternal microbiome, inheritance, genetics and infant health and development.
We know how significant the gut microbiome is in gastrointestinal health, immune regulation, nutrient absorption and reducing inflammation, but did you know it can directly affect the health of our children during gestation, infancy and childhood?
The maternal microbiome, that is, the mother’s diversity of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, vagina, skin and breast milk, plays a crucial role in shaping a child’s microbial community. Microbes are transmitted during and after birth as the baby passes through the vaginal canal, exposing the baby’s gut, skin and mucosal surfaces to a variety of beneficial bacteria that will shape their internal microbiome, providing protection against harmful pathogens. Infants born via caesarean do not have the same exposure to vaginal microbes until skin-to-skin contact is made, resulting in a different microbial composition to vaginally born infants.
Is the Microbiome Inherited ? Is the Microbiome genetic?
"The gut microbiome, often defined as a complex trait, contains diverse components and its properties are determined by a combination of external and internal effects. Although much effort has been invested so far, it is still difficult to evaluate the extent to which human genetics shape the composition of the gut microbiota." The non - genetic inherited "maternal factors encountered both in utero and after birth can directly or indirectly impact the development of the offspring’s gut microbiome and immune system". Then, what we feed this infant further effects this child's microbiome and immune system.
Microbiome effects during pregnancy & the maternal microbiome and pregnancy outcomes
Research has shown that colonisation of the infant microbiome may even begin prior to birth, as microbes have been detected in the placenta, fetal membranes, amniotic fluid and umbilical cord. The Lancet in the article "The maternal microbiome: another bridge linking mothers and infants" discusses how "maternal gut microbes may have both direct and indirect effects during pregnancy. For example, a dysregulated gut microbiome is thought to promote intestinal inflammation, which in turn could lead to a shortening of the gestational period and a reduction in birthweight. The gut microbiome can also influence nutrient absorption during pregnancy and cause more global effects on gestation and fetal growth."
Maternal diet and the probability of childhood allergy.
Prenatal maternal diet may also influence the likelihood of childhood allergy. Research has shown that a Mediterranean style diet has been associated with a reduced risk of asthma and atopic skin conditions, while a high fat and sugar diet was shown to induce dysbiosis, social dysfunction and synaptic plasticity deficits in infants.
In 2016 in Cell, Shelly Buffington and colleagues showed that a high-fat diet induced a shift in maternal gut microbiota in a mouse model, especially the lowered abundance of Lactobacillus reuteri, which reduced oxytocin levels in the hypothalamus of the offspring and negatively affected their social behaviour.
In an animal study, Samantha Dawson and colleagues found that certain butyrate-producing families were higher in mothers of children with "nominative" behaviour. "A healthy prenatal diet, including a high intake of fish, nuts, eggs, green vegetables, whole grains, and a low intake of white bread, sugar, full-cream milk, and hamburgers",
Breast Feeding effects on the maternal microbiome
Breastfeeding further contributes to the development of the baby’s microbiome, as breast milk is a rich source of beneficial bacteria, prebiotics and antibodies.
Antibiotics and the vaginal Microbiome.
Studies have shown that antibiotic use may change the vaginal microbiome during pregnancy, altering the microbial colonisation of newborns which has been associated with childhood obesity, impaired cognitive development, childhood asthma, epilepsy, and low birth weight.
Are probiotic safe in pregnancy? Which probiotics are recommended in pregnancy?
Probiotics are generally considered safe in pregnancy however it is important you look at evidence based strains. Not all probiotics are high quality and backed by evidence. It is not to say that other probiotic won't work but there may not be enough research yet.
A meta-analysis in 2019 "Effect of probiotic supplementation in pregnant women: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials" showed that probiotics supplementation resulted in:
Decrease in atopic eczema
Prolonged gestational age
No effect on weight
Reduction is risk of necrotising enterocolitis.
Lower risk of death
Some of the researched strains include
Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 " taken by mothers from 35 weeks of gestation until 6 months post-partum if breastfeeding and their child from birth to age 2 years halved the risk of eczema during the first 2 years of life."
Bifidobacterium breve M-16V and Bifidobacterium longum BB536 prenatally to 130 mothers beginning 1 month prior to delivery and postnatally to their infants for 6 months "The risk of developing eczema_atopic dermatitis (AD) during the first 18 months of life was significantly reduced in infants in the probiotic group"
L. crispatus M247 : Effect of L. crispatus M247 Administration on Pregnancy Outcomes in Women Undergoing IVF: A Controlled, Retrospective, Observational, and Open-Label Study. This is 2023 paper which looks at the potential role of this probiotic in improving fertility and live birth rates. It asks the questions on how poor vaginal microbiomes may be contributing to infertility.
While early microbial exposure during and post birth is significant in the infant’s development of a healthy immune system, it starts with the health and diversity of the mother’s microbial community. To learn more on how to start preparing for a family read this article.
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