Seeding and Feeding a Baby’s Microbiome

What is the microbiome?

The collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms that live in and on the body. We have about 10 trillion human cells in our bodies, and about 100 trillion microbes. We have evolved in tandem with this microbiome for thousands of years. The balance of microbiomes varies throughout our body, and the bacteria found in our mouths is different than on our skin, which is different than in our intestines.

Why does the microbiome matter?

  • A balance of microbes leads to optimal health. An imbalance can lead to disease. For example, a vaginal yeast infection may occur when the healthy bacteria are reduced by antibiotics, allowing yeast to overgrow.
  • Good bacteria can aid digestion, provide vitamins (K and B12), regulate the bowels, stimulate the development of the immune system, and protect against infection.
  • An overgrowth of harmful bacteria can lead to infectious disease.
  • Disruption of the gut microbiota has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, allergies, asthma, and some cancers.
  • Many studies have shown that the presence of absence of specific microbes can cause life-long changes in immunity.

How does a baby’s microbiome develop?

  • During pregnancy
    • In the past, the womb was believed to be a sterile environment. However, microbes are found in the placenta, amniotic fluid, and in meconium. (The waste that accumulates in the fetal bowels.)
    • Maternal fecal microbes have been found in the uterine environment, leading to hypotheses that microbes from throughout the body are transferred through the bloodstream. And from there into the placenta, then the umbilical cord and the amniotic fluid.
    • Placental microbes are similar to the microbes in the mother’s mouth – especially types of bacteria that aid in the metabolism of food.
    • Healthy bacteria may benefit baby. For example, if the mother lived or worked on a farm, that might protect against allergies and asthma.
    • Others worry that unhealthy bacteria may affect baby. For example, obese women tend to have abnormal gut microbiota. This may be transferred to the baby.
    • Maternal diet affects the baby. E. coli bacteria (an unhealthy bacteria) was less common amongst babies whose mothers ate primarily organic foods.
  • At birth
    • During a vaginal birth, a baby is exposed to the microbes in mother’s vagina. In the third trimester, these are especially high in lactobacilli, which help the baby to digest milk.
    • When a baby is placed skin-to-skin on a parent, they are exposed to the parent’s skin microbiome. The baby’s skin, mouth, and digestive tract are “seeded” by whatever and whomever they first have contact with.
  • Through feeding
    • Breastmilk exposes the baby to more microbes. Several are gut microbes that influence digestion.
    • Breastmilk contains sugars (oligosaccharides) which are not digestible by babies, and whose role appears to be to nourish / feed a healthy microbiome in baby’s gut. These are also referred to as prebiotics. By helping healthy bacteria to grow, there is less room for unhealthy bacteria.
    • When solid food is introduced, the microbiome begins to evolve to a more adult-like combination of microbes.
  • Through the environment
    • As baby is held by various people, their microbiomes influence it.
    • As the baby starts to explore his world, crawling on the floor, playing outdoors, petting animals, and putting everything in his mouth, his microbiome shifts and evolves, becoming quite diverse by age 3. The “hygiene hypothesis” states that babies who are exposed to more symbiotic organisms have lower risks of asthma and allergies, and stronger immune systems.

What can interfere with the establishment of a healthy microbiome?

  • During pregnancy and labor
    • Antibiotics given to mom can affect the mix of microbes in the placenta, amniotic fluid and vagina. This disrupted microbiome is inherited by the baby.
  • At birth
    • Babies born by cesarean, and thus not exposed to vaginal bacteria, are at increased risk of asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, and celiac disease. Studies comparing the microbiomes of vaginally born babies with those born via cesarean have shown differences in their gut bacteria as much as seven years after delivery. (Salminen)
    • After cesarean birth, instead of skin-to-skin contact with the parents, the baby’s first exposures are to hospital bacteria and the bacteria of hospital staff. (Babies in NICU were found to be colonized by bacteria from the health care staff, from medical equipment, and from the counter-tops in the NICU. – Brooks)
  • Newborn care
    • After any birth, if baby is wrapped in a blanket, and placed on a clothed parent, rather than skin-to-skin, the transfer of skin microbes is not complete.
    • Early baths remove / reduce protective vernix, vaginal microbiome, and baby’s own newly seeded skin microbiome. Those are replaced by hospital microbes.
    • If baby is given antibiotics, it reduces microbial diversity, and the number of both harmful and helpful bacteria. The impact lasts over 8 weeks. The longer the duration of antibiotics, the harder it is for the microbiome to recover. Early use of antibiotics, or prolonged use, can have long-term side effects, increasing risk of obesity or inflammatory bowel disease in later life.
  • Feeding
    • Formula-fed babies (even those who just had short-term formula feeding in the first few days) had increased harmful bacteria and decreased helpful bacteria.

What can parents and health care providers do to foster a healthy microbiome?

  • During pregnancy:
    • A mother can increase exposure to diverse healthy bacteria. Taking probiotic supplements may improve gut diversity (for mom and baby), may reduce gestational diabetes, and may reduce risk of allergy and eczema for the baby. (Research cited in Collado) You can eat probiotic foods which introduce healthy bacteria, such as fermented foods and foods with live cultures. And you can eat prebiotics – foods with oligosaccharides which feed healthy bacteria – see the list at the end of this article. (Reed)
    • Minimize exposure to unhealthy bacteria, such as food-borne illnesses.
  • During pregnancy and labor: Minimize exposure to antibiotics. If they are needed, consider consuming probiotics or prebiotics after the course of antibiotics is complete.
  • If baby will be delivered by cesarean, a baby’s initial seeding is from hospital bacteria and skin microbes rather than vaginal microbes. You can expose the baby to vaginal bacteria by swabbing. Although swabbing does not colonize the baby as well as vaginal birth, it helps. (Swabbed babies had twice as much maternal bacteria as babies who were born by cesarean but not swabbed. Babies who were born vaginally had six times as much maternal bacteria.) Here’s the process:
    • Sample mom’s vagina: make sure the mother is HIV-negative, strep-B negative, and has an acid, lactobacillus-dominated vagina.
    • Place sterile gauze in the mother’s vagina. Incubate gauze for one hour. Remove prior to surgery.
    • After birth, wipe baby’s mouth, face and hands with the gauze.
    • Note: If the caregiver will not do this procedure, the mother and partner can do it themselves.
  • After birth, baby should go straight onto the mother’s body, skin-to-skin. (Consider bringing a blanket from home to cover baby, rather than using a hospital blanket.)
  • In the first hours, encourage people other than the parents to look but not touch.
  • Wait 24 hours after birth to bathe the baby.
  • Feed baby only breastmilk for as long as possible.
  • If a breastfeeding mother develops mastitis or a yeast infection, ask a lactation consultant about treatment with lactobacillus probiotics.
  • Giving probiotics to a baby can treat antibiotic-induced diarrhea, prevent eczema, reduce colic symptoms, and possibly reduce obesity in later life. (Studies cited in Arrieta and Collado.)
  • Let your child explore their world, with plenty of time outdoors, digging in gardens, and exposure to animals, both pets and animals at petting zoos.
  • Offer your child diverse foods, including: fermented foods and foods with live cultures (Yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, tempeh, miso, soy sauce, kimchi, dosas and sourdough breads, kombucha, etc.) and prebiotic foods that are high in oligosaccharides (onions, garlic, legumes,  asparagus, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, turnips, parsnips, beets, and plantains)

Note: While many of those recommendations are supported by scientific research, not all have been adequately researched.

Here is a 2 page handout of this information to share with clients.

Sources:

To learn more about practically any topic related to the perinatal period, check out Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide.

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Research Summary on Effectiveness of Non-Drug Coping Techniques

There have been several literature reviews of available research on the available non-pharmacological techniques for coping with labor pain. Each of these reviews acknowledges the limitations of the research that they compile: primarily the studies are small sample sizes, and are not properly randomized control trials. (Women are typically allowed to choose which coping techniques to use with their labor.) So, all conclusions come with the caveat that “more research is needed.”

This chart summarizes those reviews. (Note: the birth ball results are based on a single study rather than a review.) Pain coping techniques are compared to “usual care.”

The chart compares the following factors that might be desired outcomes coping measures: less pain intensity, less likelihood that the laboring mother will turn to pain medications (unless that was her goal), higher satisfaction with pain relief, shorter labor, higher chance of spontaneous vaginal delivery (vs. instrumental delivery or cesarean), and less use of Pitocin to augment a slow labor.

Source Less pain? Less pain meds? More satisfaction Shorter labor Spontan. vaginal Less pitocin
Acupressure yes *
Acupuncture yes yes
Acupuncture yes yes * yes * yes *
Aromatherapy NSD
Aromatherapy NSD NSD NSD NSD
Birth Ball yes * NSD
Continuous Support yes yes yes yes yes
Epidural & Pain Meds yes N/A yes no no no
Hypnosis yes * NSD NSD yes * NSD
Hypnosis yes yes yes yes
Immersion in Water yes NSD
Massage yes
Music / audio NSD NSD NSD
Positions & Movement yes yes yes
Relaxation yes yes yes
Sterile Water Inj. yes NSD
Sterile Water Inj. yes yes
TENS yes * NSD
Yoga yes yes yes

* means limited data; NSD means there may have been a difference, but it wasn’t statistically significant

(Note: In a 2014 review by Chaillet, et al, these techniques were pooled into 3 categories, which helped to increase the statistical significance of the findings. Learn more. Also check out more articles about coping with labor pain.)

New Ways to Talk about Labor Pain V: Research on Effectiveness of 3 Mechanisms

table

In 2012, a new Cochrane review of pain management for women in labor was released. Although it had positive things to say about the non-pharmacological techniques, it also said that research into their efficacy was unclear due to limited evidence…

“WHAT WORKS: Evidence suggests that epidural, combined spinal epidural (CSE) and inhaled analgesia effectively manage pain in labour, but may give rise to adverse effects. … WHAT MAY WORK: There is some evidence to suggest that immersion in water, relaxation, acupuncture, massage and local anaesthetic nerve blocks or non-opioid drugs may improve management of labour pain, with few adverse effects.  Evidence was mainly limited to single trials. …INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE: There is insufficient evidence to make judgements on whether or not hypnosis, biofeedback, sterile water injection, aromatherapy, TENS, or parenteral opioids are more effective than placebo… Most methods of non-pharmacological pain management are non-invasive and appear to be safe for mother and baby, however, their efficacy is unclear, due to limited high quality evidence.”

A 2014 review by Chaillet, et al (Chaillet, et al. (2014) Nonpharmacologic approaches for pain management during labor compared with usual care: a meta-analysis. Birth, 41(2): 122-37. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24761801) is a significant addition to the research about non-drug approaches.

Chaillet, et al pooled techniques into three categories. If you’ve read my posts from the past few days, you’ll be familiar with these concepts. Also, see the chart at the top of this post for more information.

  • Gate Control mechanism = apply non-painful stimuli on the painful area. Methods included massage, bath, positions, walking, and birth ball. The theory is that this will block some of the intensity of the pain.
  • Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (counter-irritant) = create pain or discomfort anywhere on the body. Methods included acupressure, acupuncture, TENS, sterile water injections. The theory is that this discomfort causes the body to release endorphins which reduce pain intensity.
  • Central Nervous System Control (cognitive/support techniques). Methods included  attention focus, education, relaxation, hypnosis, continuous labor support.

By pooling studies together, you get larger sample sizes which increases the statistical significance of the results. Note, all techniques were compared to “usual care” which might have ranged broadly depending on the preparation of the laboring family and the support they were given by caregivers. It is possible that some in the “usual care” groups were also using a variety of coping techniques. So, the true difference between people who use some coping techniques and those who use none may be even greater than these results indicate.

The results of this review were:

  • Gate Control mechanism. Those who used these techniques had lower pain intensity (as predicted), were less likely to use epidural, and needed less Pitocin.
  • Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (counter-irritant). Those who used these techniques had lower pain intensity, were less likely to use epidural, and more satisfied with birth. (Two trials found women felt safer, more relaxed, and more in control.)
  • Central Nervous System Control (cognitive/support techniques) Those who used these techniques were less likely to use epidural, Pitocin, less likely to need instrumental delivery or cesarean, and had a higher satisfaction with birth. The CNSC did not reduce the intensity of the pain so much as they reduced the unpleasantness of the pain. (See more on intensity and unpleasantness here.) So, although labor still hurt a lot, women felt better able to cope – more like they were working with labor pain.

The most effective technique overall was continuous labor support, such as that offered by a doula. The effectiveness of support was already demonstrated in a Cochrane review by Hodnett et al, (Hodnett E, Gates S, et al.. Continuous support for women during in childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013. CD003766)

The best results in pain coping were from combining the labor support and education which reduce the unpleasantness of pain with gate control or DNIC techniques that reduce the intensity of the pain.

Recommended: be sure to also check out Henci Goer’s discussion of this study on Science and Sensibility.

New Ways to Talk about Labor Pain, IV: Bonapace Method

The Bonapace Method for reducing pain during childbirth can be used instead of, or in conjunction with, a traditional childbirth education class.

This method does not just teach pain coping techniques, but also teaches about the role of labor pain, how pain messages are transmitted in the body, and three mechanisms that help moderate the perception of pain. Those mechanisms are:

Cognitive structuring / central nervous system control (CNSC). Understanding labor pain and progression – what’s happening and why – enhances a sense of self-control. Focusing on something positive (like a self-affirmation) helps with labor pain.

Gate ControlTheory. Non-painful stimulation blocks part of the pain message transmitted by the spinal cord. Note: Bonapace interprets this differently than I have see elsewhere, saying specifically that it is pleasant sensation applied where the pain is located. The description on their website says “To activate this mechanism during childbirth, the fingers must be run lightly over the painful area, particularly during contractions.”

Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (DNIC). (I call this counter-irritation) Creating a second pain elsewhere on the body (i.e. not where you’re already hurting). The brain wants to reduce the pain’s effect on the body as a whole, so releases endorphins to do so. But the sensations near the second pain are still felt because the body is assessing them. (So, under this theory, holding a birth comb tightly causes a release of endorphins which helps with the labor pain, but the user is still aware of the pressure points from the comb on their palm.) In the Bonapace method, sensitive points on the body (trigger areas) are massaged by the partner, causing pain.

In a journal article (“Evaluation of the Bonapace Method: a specific educational intervention to reduce pain during childbirth”, J Pain Res 6: 653-661 at http://www.dovepress.com/articles.php?article_id=14256), Bonapace et al, compare the results of a “traditional childbirth training program” (TCTP) with the Bonapace method. Study participants chose which class to take from these options.

The TCTP was a 4 week class, with a total of 8 hours of class time, started around the 23rd week of pregnancy. It covered A&P of childbirth, exercises, stages of labor, variations, pain meds and newborn care. Relaxation, visualization, massage, and labor positions were not taught. Only breathing techniques were practiced.

The Bonapace class was 4 weeks, 8 hours, starting in the 30th week. The entire program was dedicated to pain management and partner participation. It covered 1) CNSC through breathing, relaxation, and cognitive understanding of labor pain and endorphins, 2) Gate control – non-painful stimuli such as walking and light back massage between contractions, and 3) DNIC where the partner did painful massage of acupuncture triggers points in the lower back, hands, and buttocks.

39 women participated in the full study. In labor, every 15 minutes, participants were asked to rate their pain on two scales: intensity and unpleasantness. (If pain medications were given, they stopped assessing pain after the medication. If that participant had pain scores for two phases of labor, they were kept in the study, if not, they were dropped.

Those who had learned the Bonapace method had an average of 45% less pain intensity and 47% less unpleasantness than those who had received the “traditional” childbirth education. No difference was found in the use of pain medication.

The reduction in intensity of pain was consistent for nulliparous and multiparous parents. On the “unpleasant” ratings, there was a larger reduction in scores for nulliparous than multiparous. This is likely due to anxiety… a nulliparous woman with no birth experience and no training / childbirth preparation is likely to be anxious about labor pain (and, of course, anxiety increases pain). With the TCTP, her anxiety may have been somewhat reduced and thus her pain unpleasantness would be reduced, but with the Bonapace method, her anxiety and thus unpleasantness were much more reduced.

This study indicates that being given information about the physiology of pain, and plenty of education in clear, simple techniques to manage it, has a significant impact on pain intensity and pain coping.

New Ways to Talk about Labor Pain III: Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control

Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (DNIC) is one of the mechanisms we can use for managing pain. That name is a mouthful, so I call these counter-irritants. (Read my post on birth combs as a DNIC tool here.) The principle is that if a laboring mom adds a pain or discomfort on her body during a contraction (like biting her lip, pressing her fingernails into her palm, or putting ice on her back), that helps to distract her brain from the pain. TENS, sterile water injections, acupressure, and birth combs are all DNIC tools for labor.

One theory for why these are effective is that the pain from these sensations causes a release of endorphins, endogenous opiates that help to reduce our perception of pain.

Another has to do with how the brain processes stimuli coming in on various pathways. (This is similar to the Gate Control mechanism of pain, which says that when we provide stimuli on fast-moving nerve pathways – like through sound, smell, touch with our sensitive fingers and toes – then those block some of the pain coming in on slower pathways – like labor pain.)

Chaillet, et al says that DNIC primarily reduce the intensity of pain. I believe that they can also help to reduce the unpleasantness of the pain. (see my post here for the difference between the intensity of pain and the unpleasantness of pain.) If mom is in control of the counter-irritant, it may give her more of a sense of control over the labor pain. She may feel like she can’t escape the labor pain (it’s highly “unpleasant”) but that she could stop biting her lip anytime she wants… being in control of something is better than feeling totally out of control. It’s one way of “working with labor pain.”

In childbirth classes, we can talk about counter-irritants by suggesting options to the pregnant parent (ice, squeezing something, TENS). We can use the concept to better explain sterile water injections (some parents are mis-educated in advance, and think that the injections themselves relieve pain… they’re shocked at how much the injections hurt! So, we want to explain in advance that they do hurt… like a bee sting… and that’s the idea, because they trigger an endorphin release.

In classes, we can also let the support person know that some people in labor develop a spontaneous ritual where they are causing pain to themselves (like pulling their hair)… help the partner understand that the person in labor is looking for counter-irritant – an uncomfortable sensation to distract her from the pain, and they can help her find one that gives that counter-stimulation but doesn’t harm her (like squeezing birth combs).

In the Bonapace method (I’ll post on that tomorrow), the DNIC mechanism that is taught is for the partner to do painful pressure on acupuncture trigger points. I personally prefer using only counter-irritant techniques that the person in labor applies and controls. I personally don’t like to teach partners to do anything painful to a woman, even if it might have benefit for labor pain. (A licensed massage therapist who has been clearly trained in safe high pressure massage I have no concerns about.) If I were to teach this in a class, I would set clear expectations that the laboring woman controls this firm massage – she asks for it to be done, and if she doesn’t like it, she tells her partner to stop, and her partner should stop.

New Ways to Talk About Pain II – Working with Labor Pain

Many years ago, I created a class I called Working with Labor Pain. I had realized that if women were expecting non-drug comfort techniques to take away their pain like an epidural can, then they would be disappointed. If they imagined that if they used a few deep breathing techniques and some visualization, then labor would be “easy”, they were in for a shock. But, if they understood that the techniques we taught could help them feel like they were working with their pain,  then the pain would feel more manageable. Coping with labor would be hard work, but it didn’t have to be suffering. (See my last post for more on this distinction.)

Nicky Leap, a professor of midwifery at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, has done some great writing on this subject.

For her dissertation (Leap N 1996a A Midwifery Perspective on Pain in Labour – described here) she did a literature search on labor pain, including novels, poetry, short stories, plays, biographies, oral history and books on childbirth aimed at pregnant women, and she interviewed 10 midwives. “The midwives described two distinct approaches to pain in labour. I named these the dominant paradigm (or ‘mind set’) of ‘pain relief’ and the paradigm of ‘working with pain.'” The pain relief approach has the goal of reducing pain through medication. It assumes that not offering pain relief in labor is cruel in the days of modern analgesia. Working with pain is based on an understanding that normal pain is part of the process of labor.

Nonpharmacologic should be first method: labor support combined with Gate Control or counter-irritant. If not enough, and woman is suffering, then combine pain meds with nonpharmocologic, especially support.

The midwives felt that in normal labor, pain triggers endorphins that help the women to cope. Pain is an ally which tells women to summon support and find a safe place to give birth. Pain is a signal of labor progress. If a woman is supported through the pain by people who are confident in her ability to cope with it (to work with it), then she has heightened joy at the end of the process from the triumph of walking through that pain. In a normal labor, with safety and support, women aren’t sent more pain than they can handle. (Abnormal pain is associated with abnormal labor that might require intervention and might require pain relief.)

The midwives were concerned that when we offer the full menu of pain relief choices, with the benefits and risks of each method, that we create “a culture where both women and their attendants end up seeing some form of ‘pain relief’ … as a necessary part of the process of giving birth.”

In “Journey to Confidence: women’s experiences of pain in labour and relational continuity of care” (Leap, et al, JMWH 2010), Leap documents interviews with ten women who had midwifery care. They linked their confidence about pain coping to the way their midwives talked about labor pain openly, candidly, and calmly, explaining that it’s not like other pain, and that it’s manageable pain. During labor, when they were feeling overwhelmed, it was helpful reassured by the midwife that although labor was painful, the contractions were bringing the baby down, and being reassured that they could manage the pain. After labor, “women consistently linked their pride about coping with pain to feeling strong and confident and to a positive start to new motherhood.”

In Working with Pain in Labor (Leap, et al. New Digest, 2010) she says that if the pain relief paradigm is applied, then even when women say they hope for a drug-free labor, they may still begin labor with the expectation that they’ll need some form of pain relief. If they have unrealistic expectations about pain, they are not prepared for labor, and if “a woman experiencing normal labour is offered pharmacological pain relief, she will find it irresistible.”

On the other hand, if the caregivers have a philosophy where pain as seen as a normal physiological process, and mothers are given privacy and protection from disturbances, they can go into an altered state where oxytocin and endorphins help them cope.

In childbirth classes, we should think more about how we talk about working with labor pain for a normal labor that’s intense but not unbearably unpleasant versus how we talk about pain relief as a useful tool for any abnormal labor or any point where the pain has become suffering.

In the last edition of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, we added a chart comparing what labor is like without pain medications versus with pain meds. For the 2016 edition, I’m working on a clearer description that the role of pain meds is pain relief and the role of non-pharmacological options is to help us feel like we are working with labor pain and it is manageable and we can triumph over it.