Researchers have conducted a review of studies analyzing how disruptions to maternal and infant microbiomes may increase the risk of certain illnesses later in life.
The microbiome refers to the tens of trillions of microorganisms that live in our intestine, respiratory tract and on our skin.
There is increasing evidence that disruptions to a person’s microbiota in early life may influence the likelihood of developing certain illnesses later in life. Earlier this year, for example, a study reported by Medical News Today found that an increase in richness of gut bacteria at 3 months of age was associated with reduced risk for food allergies at 1 year of age.
“Disturbed microbiota could potentially contribute to a wide range of childhood diseases including allergies, asthma, obesity and autism-like neurodevelopmental conditions,” notes Dr. Meropol.
However, she points to a number of recent studies that suggest a number of factors that may aid a child’s microbiome development, including breastfeeding, vaginal birth and skin-to-skin contact straight after birth.
Growing evidence that microbiota development begins before birth
Popular notion holds that the development of microbiota begins at birth and that the womb is a sterile environment. However, recent studies have challenged this idea, suggesting that gut microbiota development begins before birth. Dr. Meropol and colleagues discuss this theory, pointing to a review that assesses the growing evidence that a child’s microbiota development starts in the womb.
In a review titled “Microbial Programming of health and disease starts during fetal life,” Petya T. Koleva, of the University of Alberta in Canada, and colleagues cite research that found the offspring of mothers with allergies have greater abundance of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria in their earliest stools, which may raise their risk of later-life respiratory problems.
“This means that not only do we have to consider the microbiome of the child but also that of the mother,” notes Dr. Meropol, “and the irony is that some of our modern medical practices, through their effect on these early microbiota, could have unintended consequences, interfering with normal development of children’s immune, metabolic, and neurologic systems.”