That’s right ladies, many cultures and traditions around the world, including ancient yoga practices, depict the vagina as the gateway to the universe. From the vagina, all human life is born.
Ahhh, now doesn’t that feel good. Your vagina is extraordinary, and without it, no new babies could be made or born. The vagina is life-giving, a portal from the heavens. Now I’ve got goosebumps.
So, what’s so special about the vagina and the birth route when it comes to healthy gut development?
The first contact a baby has with microbes sets the stage for how its immune system will react to food, the environment, and the development of the disease.
As it turns out, mom’s microbes start to change in the weeks leading up to birth. Science has named which species change, but it’s not like they have studied enough women at enough time points to make claims regarding specifics. And to date- there has not yet been engineered a birth-ready probiotic, but believe me; science is going to try.
At birth, the baby pushes itself out of the vagina when in the head-down position, and mom helps by pushing herself. During this process, the baby comes into contact with the microbes of the vagina: primarily lactobacillus species, the same ones found in fermented yogurt and kefir. To learn more about the vaginal microbiome and birth read here. Dunn et al. 2017.
There is also contact with the perineum (the small area of skin that separates the anus from the vagina). The anus is so close, and due to pushing, most women do poop (a little or a lot) during the birth process. It’s perfectly normal, and the baby gets some of this stool and the vagina microbes in and on its body.
This passage through the birth canal is thought to be one of the “keystone” events necessary for the early development of the human immune system. This contact with microbes is the first true inoculation (which means to contaminate intentionally).
You may not know yet, but the human gut is your largest immune organ and the second brain with almost as many neurons as your actual brain. The gut is also the site of neurotransmitter and hormones synthesis previously not recognized and was not taught to me in medical school, that was only ten years ago people!
In this article, Dunlop et al. describe a post-cesarean procedure where they soaked a cotton swab in moms vagina for up to an hour then within 2 minutes of birth swabbed the baby’s eyes, mouth and nose with it. They studied these babies and compared them to vaginally delivered babies and found that up to a month after delivery, vaginal and swabbed cesarean babies had similar microbiomes.
The story of birth by cesarean or vagina does not end here. Cesareans are only performed with antibiotics, further decreasing the diversity of the mother’s microbiome. Cesareans often lead to a delay in maternal bonding with skin to skin contact, which regulates the baby’s nervous system and introduces to them to more of the mother’s flora. Immediate initiation of breastfeeding (within the first two hours of life) is another keystone event where colostrum has important and dramatic effects on the gut and immune system.
I’ll be telling the story of breastfeeding in the next article, and soon creating a free guide with bullet-pointed information regarding healthy pregnancy and delivery for you and your baby.
Please leave a comment below or write in with a question! I can’t get enough of this stuff 🙂