Everyone LOVES holding babies. And I do too. But not right after birth.
In the hours, days, and months after birth, babies are being colonized by a whole community of microflora, primarily in their gut. In fact, a QUADRILLION (!!!) microflora (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) are going to invade your baby’s body and set up camp there. And it’s totally normal and healthy. These microbes, very different from the ones that cause illness, are our friends because optimal colonization of the gut with sets your baby up for fantastic long term health.
When I’m with a family in the immediate postpartum period (those couple hours right after birth), I do very little touching of their baby because I want to ensure that their baby gets colonized with THEIR microflora, not mine. Although I am pretty sure I’ve got healthy flora because I do all the things to keep it that way (and was born vaginally and breastfed), which is a topic for another day, every family’s flora is a little bit different. As my clients know, I believe really strongly in the breast crawl, and babies initiating breastfeeding on their own, so usually there’s no need for me to put my hands on a baby. Occasionally, though, moms ask for my help, so I’ll either wash my hands really well or wear gloves, and avoid spending a lot of time, if any, touching the baby’s head or face, often using the blanket or hat as a buffer.
So what’s the big deal about microflora? For one, studies have shown that babies born vaginally have a different microflora than those born by Cesarean. While vaginally born babies are colonized with flora from the mother’s vagina and rectum (which, again, is healthy, normal, and optimal–not “dirty”), those born by Cesarean are colonized with hospital-type flora because most of the time, the very first surfaces or hands they encounter are ones of hospital staff. That’s why, for any kind of birth, getting babies skin to skin immediately, or soon after birth, is so important. If you gave birth by cesarean, rest assured, there’s other things that can help restore microflora include:
- Skin to skin in the operating room, or immediately (watch a gentle cesarean)
- Transfer of maternal vaginal secretions (swabbing the mother’s vagina and applying the swab to the baby’s mouth)
Another reason microflora is a big deal is because it’s been linked to risk of allergies, asthma, obesity, SIDS, eczema, autoimmune disorders, and even mental health! And that’s just what’s been confirmed; there’s lots more research in the making.
Want to read more about microflora?
- Cesarean section & microbiota
- Microbirth, the movie