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Baby’s First Bacteria: The Development of the Microbiome

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Birth is miraculous, complicated, and still not entirely understood. Up until very recently, we thought our first exposure to microorganisms only occurred once our journey into the world was complete.

However, research in the last few years has demonstrated that while birth is an important step in a newborn's "inoculation," it is not the first. Microbes have been found in the placenta, umbilical cord, and amniotic fluid.

So we've all been covered in bacteria since conception?

Yep! After nine months of swimming with Mom's bacteria in utero, the birthing journey provides us with access to our dear mother's many vaginal bacteria. Gross you out?

It really shouldn't. Not only is the vagina a self-cleaning organ (meaning that the bacteria found there belong there), but vaginal bacteria is theorized to be pretty important for the development of our newly born selves. This theory is fueled by the fact that Caesarean-section births, during which babies miss out entirely on gathering some vaginal microbiota, are correlated with increased incidences of asthma, immune deficiencies, allergies, and other health concerns compared to their vaginal-birth counterparts. At NYU, some very interesting research is being done to solve this problem.

What about after we’re born?

After birth, we continue our journey of colonization. We are exposed to healthy skin bacteria on our mother through skin-to-skin contact (aka cuddling), breast milk, and our interactions with the outside world.

Uterus, breast milk, vagina - these are words that most of the population prefer not to speak loudly in the supermarket. But why? We should learn to appreciate the magic of the body, our bacteria, and the way they work together.

If we can learn anything from a baby’s bacterial growth, it is that birth is a beautifully crafted and intricate process, made to provide the newborn with the best chance to thrive. Cool, right?

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