A recent study shows that where babies are born influences their gut health. This could be a consideration when you make a decision about where to have your baby.
Often, the ‘default’ choice is the hospital.
Isn’t that where everyone gives birth?
As you get further along into your pregnancy, chances are you’ve learned about other options.
You might have thought about giving birth in a freestanding birth centre.
Or perhaps you’ve always desired a home birth, and you’re searching for information to convince the naysayers in your life of the benefits.
If you’re planning a home birth, you have probably heard at least one person suggest, or say outright, that home births are only about mothers and their wishes.
Some even suggest not giving birth in a hospital is taking unnecessary risks.
Where Babies Are Born Influences Gut Health, Study Finds
If you’ve read the various research, you’ll know there’s evidence to show home births have many benefits for both mothers and babies.
In fact, for many mother-baby pairs, research shows a home birth can be as safe as a hospital birth, and sometimes even safer.
Gut health is a new area of research. We’re learning more about the importance of diverse beneficial bacteria in our bodies.
A new study from Rutgers University has found infants born at home have more diverse bacteria in their gut and faeces when compared with infants born in hospital.
Simply put, being born at home is associated with better gut health for infants.
Why Is Gut Health Important?
As a child, I thought all bacteria were bad.
We opted for antibiotics for nearly every sniffle.
We also used antibacterial soap and, when hand sanitisers became more popular, I would practically bathe in it. No illnesses for me!
In fact, I was sick quite often.
As it turns out, all bacteria aren’t created equal.
While some bacteria are dangerous, there are many beneficial bacteria that help our systems function at their best.
Diverse beneficial bacteria in the gut are associated with optimal metabolic function and immune system function.
For a newborn with a still-immature immune system and developing metabolism, gut health matters.
The human microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on and in our bodies.
Many of these benefit our health and prevent chronic conditions.
Optimal gut health is associated with less risk of future obesity, asthma, diabetes, and gut inflammatory disorders (such as Crohn’s disease).
Mothers naturally transmit their microbes to their babies; this plays a role in preventing chronic health conditions.
There are circumstances that necessitate a hospital birth, and there are illnesses that require antibiotics.
However, evidence points to the benefits of optimal gut health. Parents should consider all available information when making choices about where and how to give birth.
This research is also very important for healthcare professionals and researchers.
Learning more about why babies born at home have better gut health could help professionals improve care, and develop policies to help every baby have improved gut health.
What Did The Study Find?
Researchers at Rutgers University followed 35 mother-baby pairs.
All the mothers gave birth with the help of midwives. They practised early skin-to-skin, exclusively breastfed, and had uncomplicated vaginal births without medical interventions (and without maternal antibiotics).
Fourteen of the mother-baby pairs had home births and, of those, four had water births.
All the mothers involved in the study initiated breastfeeding very shortly after birth.
Researchers obtained vaginal swabs from mothers and fecal samples from babies to determine which microbes were present.
They found infants born at home had more diverse bacteria than infants born in the hospital.
As this study showed, even without interventions, infants’ microbiome was affected by birth location.
Fecal samples were also collected at one month of age.
Researchers found infants born in the hospital had greater pro-inflammatory gene expression.
Senior study author, Professor Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello said:
“The reasons for the differences between infants born at home versus in hospitals are not known, but we speculate that common hospital interventions like early infant bathing and antibiotic eye prophylaxis or environmental factors—like the aseptic environment of the hospital—may be involved”.
What Does This Information Mean For Parents?
As parents, we want to make informed decisions about nearly everything, from the moment we find out we’re pregnant.
In the age of the Internet, it can be overwhelming to dissect all the research and the implications it might have in our lives.
This information could play a role in deciding where and how to give birth.
Although researchers aren’t certain of the reasons for the differences, there are some educated guesses.
Some parents might use this information and decide to:
- Pursue a home birth
- Consider a freestanding birth centre where practices might reduce the risk of interfering with gut bacteria, compared with a hospital setting
- Consider delaying baby’s first bath, regardless of birth location.
- Learn about the benefits and risks associated with prophylactic eye ointment
- Learn about gut health in general and make informed decisions about future medication, diet, etc.
For some home birthers, the results of this study might seem obvious.
However, it could reaffirm their decision to have a home birth was more than simply having the birth they wanted. The choice to birth at home has ongoing health benefits for their child.
Is This Reason Enough To Pursue A Home Birth?
Choosing where to give birth feels like a simple decision for some and a complicated one for others.
This is one small study showing one benefit of home births. Taken alone, it might not sway the decision.
However, it is one of many studies that show the benefit of home births for low to moderate risk mother-baby pairs.
The following articles provide more information about the choice of where to give birth: