Living dirty for better optimal health is an idea that I’ve just been introduced to after reading “The Microbiome Solution” by Dr. Robynne Chutkan. Dr. Chutkan is a gastroenterologist working at Georgetown University Hospital and also running her own integrative health center for women. What does all of this have to do with pregnancy and birthing a new baby? A lot.
The Microbiome is a new term for me, and one that I wish I had heard about sooner, especially before having my two daughters. In the most basic terms, the microbiome is the term used to describe all of the organisms that live in and on us (bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and helminths). This may seem unhealthy, but in fact, it is the opposite. A healthy variety of these little “friends” in and on our body is what keeps us healthy and our immune system strong and functioning optimally.
So how is this related to your pregnancy and birth? For one, during pregnancy, your body begins to prepare for your baby’s arrival by initiating bacterial changes in the vagina that protect and nurture your growing baby. These changes significantly progress in the third trimester in preparation for birth.
During a vaginal birth, the baby will get inoculated with all these microbes, and thus the foundation of his or her microbiome has begun. The microbiome is also created when a baby is born via c-section; however, the baby will miss out on the vaginal microbes. More and more we are hearing of the use of vaginal swabs for these babies to ensure they receive this beneficial bacteria. The two next steps in creating our microbiome (as infants) are through skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and through breastfeeding and breast milk.
Why is all of this important?
We’ve been taught to fear germs and bacteria. Everywhere you turn you’ll find hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap. Speaking of which, the FDA recently ordered all manufacturers to remove antibacterials from all soaps. Researchers are finding that being “too clean” may actually do more harm than good. We really do need more good bacteria to keep us healthy. So what’s a mom to do?
Here are 4 tips to support your and your baby’s microbiomes:
Take a good quality probiotic before, during, and after pregnancy. Talk with your care provider about giving your child(ren) probiotics as well. There are specific types developed for infants and children.
- Avoid hand sanitizer and antibacterial soaps. Get rid of them! Washing your hands regularly with good old-fashioned soap works just fine for keeping germs at bay.
- Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. They are often prescribed for conditions for which they have no effect. Be sure they are warranted before filling your prescription.
- Take time to relax. Stress impacts us in many ways, including by depressing our immune systems. Meditate, go for a walk, read, or take a few deep breaths. Do something every day that helps you to move out of the fight-or-flight response and into a rest-and-digest mode.
- Eat whole foods—fruits, veggies, and whole grains are all great options for supporting your microbiome. Include fermented foods as well. Avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, MSG, food dyes, and artificial sweeteners.
By incorporating some or all of these tips, you’ll be strengthening your microbiome. This will help you to have a strong immune system and increase your ability to digest your food and assimilate the nutrients both you and your baby need to stay healthy.