So you’ve had a belly birth, and now you’re sitting in bed, feeling tender and sore, remembering all those articles you read about the importance of vaginal birth for your baby’s gut health. Well, I’m here to give you some great news and ideas on how to help your baby’s gut health after a belly birth.
Your baby’s gut is like a garden; when he is born, this garden has minimal amounts and diversity of seeds (microbes). The initial seeding (colonisation) of this garden/microbiome happens during vaginal birth. Yet, your baby bypasses this initial seeding process during a belly birth. Meaning he still needs to receive his initial microbial colonisation. This doesn’t mean that cesarean-born babies don’t receive any microbes. It just means they receive less diversity of beneficial microbes and often need to play catch up in the coming months.
The seeds (microbes) in your baby’s gut garden form her gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is crucial in her long-term health, immunity, brain development and digestion. For example, your baby needs a robust and healthy gut microbiome to help break down milk and prevent colic, excessive gas, recurrent infections and sleep disturbances later in life. In addition, a healthy gut microbiome is protective against many chronic health conditions like allergies, asthma and eczema.
Vaginal seeding: mimicking the natural birth process
If you are yet to give birth and have a planned caesarean coming up, or you are reading this with a fresh newborn in your arms, then vaginal seeding might be an option for you. It involves transferring maternal vaginal fluids to the newborn, exposing them to beneficial bacteria.
This practice aims to seed your baby’s oral and gut microbiome by replicating the exposure to healthy bacteria during vaginal birth. Unfortunately, there is insufficient research to support this process. Scientists are still questioning the efficacy and safety of this practice. Yet, I have spoken to a few mothers who have successfully carried out vaginal seeding and have healthy babies.
Before you try vaginal seeding, consult your healthcare provider to ensure it’s safe for you and your baby. You want to make sure your vaginal microbiome is balanced and healthy. You can complete a vaginal microbiome mapping test with us before birth. Your baby’s safety always comes first!
Breastfeeding: seeding the gut garden after birth
Breastfeeding is the fastest way for you to help seed your baby’s gut garden after a cesarean birth. It has over 600 species of beneficial bacteria, more than scientists have found living in the gut. Breastmilk also has over 200 different sources of prebiotics known as oligosaccharides – which feed the beneficial microbes and help them grow.
Breastmilk is the ultimate gut gardener.– Dawn Whitten
So to summarise, breastmilk is like golden fertiliser for your baby’s gut as it’s jam-packed with nutrients, antibodies, prebiotics, healthy bacteria and active molecules that help to seed and feed your baby’s gut with beneficial microbes—making up for the microbes that were bypassed after a caesarean birth. Some studies have shown that c-section babies who are exclusively breastfed have a similar microbiome to vaginally born babies.
So Mama, as you lay there sore and recovering from your cesarean, feeding your baby from your tender breasts, please know that you are giving her all these beautiful things to nourish and replenish her microbiome after a belly birth.
Sometimes initiating breastfeeding can be challenging and require further advice from a lactation consultant. Here at Oh Healthy Baby, we recommend lactation consultants who are IBCLC and NDC recognised. But remember, whether you are breastfeeding or not, you’re doing a fantastic job nourishing your little one! Your reading this article, which shows that you care and are trying your best, and that’s all that matters.
Enhancing Breast Milk Quality for Your Baby’s Gut Health
The bacterial diversity of your breast milk plays a significant role in your baby’s microbiome. Moreover, the amount of beneficial bacteria and active molecules in the breastmilk depends on your gut, oral and reproductive microbiome.
To improve the composition of your breast milk:
- Focus on nurturing your gut health and microbiome.
- Embrace a balanced, nutrient-dense diet rich in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and fibre to fuel your gut bacteria.
- Add fermented foods, like yoghurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, to introduce a diverse range of beneficial bacteria.
- Staying well-hydrated with filtered water.
- Speak with your healthcare provider to find ways to manage stress.
Caring for your gut health directly impacts the diversity of microbes in your breast milk. Unfortunately, caring for ourselves can sometimes take work, especially if we are busy and sleep-deprived. Self-care can feel like another thing to try and accomplish on an already busy to-do list. This is why having a naturopath and village beside you is crucial. Like-minded mamas who are going through the same thing, cheering each other with expert guidance from a qualified practitioner. Join the Healthy Baby Village.
Alternative Approaches When Breastfeeding Isn’t Possible
If you cannot breastfeed, there’s no need to panic—there are still ways to seed your baby’s gut garden with beneficial bacteria. Though it usually requires more time and care, you can help your baby develop a healthy and diverse microbiome with patience and support.
Consider using a probiotic supplement or high-quality, probiotic-rich infant formula that supports gut health. Make sure to speak with an infant naturopath or nutritionist. Additionally, focus on incorporating the strategies mentioned, such as lots of skin-to-skin and providing a diet rich in whole foods, prebiotics, and fermented foods when your baby transitions to solids.
Skin-to-Skin Contact: Strengthening Bonds and Gut Health
Skin-to-skin contact is incredibly underestimated. Many studies have confirmed that skin-to-skin helps babies regulate their body temperature, heart rate, and stress levels while promoting lifelong bonding. It is something both partners and other close carers can do.
Skin-to-skin helps your baby feel safe and secure and exposes your baby to the healthy bacteria on the skin, supporting the development of a diverse gut microbiome after caesarean birth. Start skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible and continue to practise it regularly.
Skin-to-skin time is often very calming – to both you and your baby. I recommend lying topless while you recover and embrace these precious moments.
Probiotic Supplements: Boosting Baby’s Gut Flora
Probiotics contain beneficial bacteria that help maintain gut balance and support digestion and immunity. Belly-birthed babies who are formula fed often benefit from a probiotic supplement. You want to make sure the probiotic is Bifidobacteria dominant. Consult your healthcare provider or book a 1:1 consultation with us to choose the right probiotic supplement for your baby, ensuring it’s designed for infants and contains appropriate strains for post-cesarean gut health.
Supporting Baby’s Microbiome During the Transition to Solids
As your baby grows and starts eating solids, it provides you with an excellent opportunity to continue supporting his gut microbiome. Before you begin, make sure he is showing all signs of readiness. You can read more about this in our free eBook, available for download. Download our eBook with 5 Simple Steps to Starting Solids for optimal gut health.
When starting solids focus on offering:
- Prebiotic-rich foods, like bananas, apples, and sweet potatoes.
- Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, yoghurt and kefir.
- Nutrient-dense foods like liver and other animal food sources.
- Foods of different colours and textures.
Remember that your baby’s gut health journey doesn’t end with breastfeeding—it’s a lifelong process that is constantly changing.
Supporting your baby’s gut microbiome after a cesarean birth is vital for their long-term health and well-being. Rest assured that with these techniques, your baby will gain a beautifully diverse gut garden. By implementing strategies like breastfeeding, vaginal seeding, skin-to-skin contact, probiotics, and whole foods, you can help your baby develop a healthy and diverse gut microbiome.