The short story:
- When you’ve got a choice, choose a normal birth.
- Don’t strive to maintain a spotlessly clean home.
- Suck your baby’s pacifier.
1. Avoid C-Section when you have the option
Of course, you may not have a choice of C-section versus normal birth, so follow your doctor's advice. It's possible your health or your baby's condition is such that a C-section surgery is the safest option. However, there are many times when a pregnant woman has an option – where getting a C-section surgery, or not, is up to her. In these cases, where the mom is weighing the advantages and disadvantages, these recent studies point out another disadvantage: that C-section babies appear to be missing out on some important and healthful bacteria exposure that happens when a baby passes through the birth canal.
You can get the full depth and breadth of the study here, but to summarize what they learned, and how they learned it:
- The study involved nearly 1300 newborns over a four-year period.
- One of the key goals of the study was to understand what they describe as the microbiome or “microbial ecosystem” within each baby. (See the Human Microbiome Project for more info.) The microbiome is the whole microscopic world inside your gut – a highly populated community with more than 100 trillion microorganisms.
- One of the more significant discoveries the scientists made is that the microbiome of babies born through normal birth was markedly different than that of babies born through C-section – what they call a different pattern of gut bacteria.
- The scientists found that babies born via C-section had greater sensitivity to many common allergens than those babies born by natural birth, such as allergens often associated with dust mites, cats, dogs, and cockroaches. Specifically, C-section babies had five times the likelihood of developing allergies by age two!
Scientists are still trying to determine all the factors that may cause this – for instance, delayed lactation, which is common in women with C-sections, means that the baby isn't getting good bacterial exposure from the mother’s milk, which can also populate the bacterial flora of the infant’s gut.
2. Expose your child to normal life "stuff"
This doesn't necessarily mean you should dump your baby in dirt. The scientists refer to "incidental environmental exposure”– just the ordinary microbial environment of the real world around the house and yard – and how it seems to play a major role in determining the distinctive characteristics of the microbial community within each baby. “By the end of the first year of life, microbial ecosystems in each baby, although still distinct, had converged toward a profile characteristic of the adult gastrointestinal tract.”
Thus, based on the current weight of evidence, some scientists now recommend that moms avoid the approach of trying to keep an “antiseptic house." Scientists believe that this could explain why there is a higher occurrence of diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis in more affluent, Western, industrialized countries. Their “hygiene hypothesis” is that an overly clean environment, especially in early childhood, may contribute to the development of several childhood diseases.
3. Suck on pacifiers
This may sound strangely old world, but a recent Swedish study, published in Pediatrics journal, shows that, when a parent sucks on his or her child's pacifier – yes, using their own mouth's saliva to "clean" their babies pacifiers – those babies were up to 37 percent less likely to get eczema or asthma by the time they had reached 18 months. And that positive effect continues; when the study looked at three-year-olds, if their parents had cleaned their pacifiers by their own mouths, the three-year-olds were still roughly half as likely to develop eczema as children whose parents were less free with their spit.
CONCLUSION: As surprising as much of this sounds, you can give your child the best defense against allergies by sucking your infant’s pacifier, by striving for a normal birth, and avoiding a sterile home environment.