Your Baby’s Microbiome —The Critical Role of Vaginal Birth and Breastfeeding for Lifelong Health
Toni Harman and Alex Wakeford
Chelsea Green Publishing
Science has begun to realize that those germs everyone fears are not so evil after all. They are just misunderstood. Most bacteria are beneficial, even critical for our survival. We launch ham-fisted attempts to get rid of germs with antibiotics. This kills good and “bad” bacteria and leaves an imbalance that we pay for in the long run. Given these new discoveries and the fact that we are greatly outnumbered and can’t kill them all even if they are bad, perhaps we should call off the war on bacteria.
Evidence is accumulating that the bacteria we are exposed to during normal birth affect our health for the rest of our lives. It is generally thought that unborn babies have little or no bacteria and acquire important strains of bacteria at birth. When something disrupts that normal process, there are consequences. Disruptions would include Caesarean sections, lack of breastfeeding, and lack of skin-to-skin contact between baby and mother.
Many people in many forums have pointed out that chronic ailments like asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity, celiac disease and a long list of other things have increased dramatically in recent decades. A number of reasons for this have been given, and there could be more than one reason for many of these problems. In Your Baby’s Microbiome, Harman and Wakeford concentrate on the correlation between disease and bacterial imbalance or lack of diversity.
For example, when comparing bacterial diversity between typical members of Western civilization and people who have had little or no contact with Western civilization, the people who have not had exposure to chemicals, drugs, processed foods and medical abuse have a much higher diversity of bacteria. The Yanomami live in the remote mountains of Venezuela and are one of the most isolated groups of people in the world. They have around 50 percent greater ecological diversity than the average American. They are also healthier than the average American.
Harman and Wakeford examine in detail the role of C-sections in establishing the biome. Babies pick up a lot of bacteria while passing through the birth canal, and that obviously doesn’t happen with a C-section. The consequences don’t necessarily end with a single individual. A girl born by C-section may be lacking certain important bacteria for the rest of her life. When she gives birth, even normally, her children will have the same deficiency. This deficiency could go on indefinitely in the coming generations.
The authors discuss solutions that may help in the short term. The discussion of C-sections is fine as far as it goes, and there is a brief mention of nutrition as a factor, but I didn’t see any details in this book. The thumbs are UP for this book, but it would be great if there was more explanation of how the lack of fat-soluble vitamins in the Western diet has created a generation of people with narrowed skulls and dental arches and bad teeth. Women end up with hips that are too narrow for easy childbirth, making C-sections a necessity for many of them.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2017.