Who knew studying babies’ poop can actually lead to amazing discoveries about childbirth, breastfeeding, antibiotics, allergies, and asthma?
That’s exactly what scientists Fredrik Bäckhed and Jovanna Dahlgren at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Wang Jun at the Beijing Genomics Institute-Shenzhen, China recently learned when they conducted a study analyzing feces from 98 Swedish infants.
But before we get into the details of the study, let’s get down the basics first. What exactly is the gut microbiome?
Gut microbiome is the name given to the population of microbiota organisms that live in the human intestine. These microorganisms are unique, not only because there are trillions of them but also because they have milliions of genes, and can function as a person’s identity card (much like a fingerprint or a strand of hair).
Recently there’s been a lot of buzz in the science world about the gut microbiome because it seems as though it plays various crucial functions, and this study is just one of many. The Swedish and Chinese scientists discovered a few ways in how the gut microbiome affects childbirth, breastfeeding, and development.
There are two ways to give birth: vaginally or via a cesarean section, or C-section. Comparing the feces collected from babies born vaginally and from babies born via C-section, scientists discovered that the feces from the latter contains a significantly less similar microbiome to the microbiome of their mothers.
They also determined that nutrition during the early stages of an infant’s life is a core factor in the development of the gut microbiome.
Our findings surprisingly demonstrated that cessation of breastfeeding, rather than introduction of solid foods, is the major driver in the development of an adult-like microbiota
-Fredrik Bäckhed, lead study author
Bacteria rely on the mother’s milk to grow. Once the bacteria’s access to that milk stops, the bacteria stops growing. In its place, adult-like microorganisms emerge.
In addition, the gut microbiome acts as nutrients and vitamins to the infant’s growth and development, and gives aid to important processes such as making amino acids.
The study also critiques the amount of antibiotics given to babies when they’re born. There’s speculation that the baby’s gut microbiome is negatively impacted by the overabundance and overexposure of antibiotics. Besides the obvious risk of antibiotic resistance, one hypothesis is that when exposed to antibiotics early on, the gut microbiome loses important bacteria that helps immune cells mature. This is believed to be the reason why allergies and asthma are now widely prevalent.
Though this study is just a preliminary, it’s amazing just how big of an effect the gut microbiome has on us, and how much new research is coming out.
Want to learn more about the gut microbiome? Check out other sources about the microbiome, such as it’s relationship on the brain, and how it can change the brain’s function, how it can help reduce weight, and junk food’s negative impact on it, and make sure to comment below!