It is particularly important for babies born by C-section before 35 weeks as it helps to develop a more “normal” gut microbiota.
The gut microbiota refers to the bacterial community of the intestines.
According to a research paper, whose main author is Dr Cian Hill, the microbiota of babies born by C-section can be optimised to the same levels of infants born vaginally by breastfeeding.
The research discovered that full-term babies born by C-section, who were breastfed for at least four weeks, had similar gut bacteria to vaginally born babies, by eight weeks of age.
The population of gut bacteria develops over the first two to three years of a baby’s life and is known to play a key role in human health.
At birth, the population of bacteria found in babies resembles that of the mother’s vagina if born vaginally, or that of the skin, if born by C-section.
“We found that babies born vaginally at full-term had a relatively stable microbiota throughout the first 24 weeks with good bacteria such as Bifidobacteria predominating,” said Dr Hill who studied and worked at UCC’s School of Microbiology. He is now employed with Johnson and Johnson on their Global Operations Leadership Development Programme.
He explained the important role that Bifidobacteria played when it came to breaking down breast milk.
“Bifidobacteria are known to break down the complex sugars called Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) in breast milk and so infants with more Bifidobacteria are thought to extract more nutrition from milk digestion helping them to thrive,” Dr Hill said.
Meanwhile, Prof Catherine Stanton of Teagasc, another study author, said that the “mode of delivery” at birth clearly had an effect on the health of the gut. “This study clearly shows that mode of delivery and gestational age at birth are the strong influencers of early gut microbiota populations following birth,” she said.
This research was funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, the Health Research Board and Science Foundation Ireland and is published in the journal, Microbiome.
Data from 2014 shows on average 30.4% of women giving birth in Irish hospitals do so by C-section.