Mothers and babies need good bacteria, too

Yesterday, we talked about the contributing role that bacterial diversity plays in the obesity crisis. Today I want to share a study on a similar subject… in a very different population.

One that, as a former obese child, happens to be very close to my heart.

The latest research from the CHILD Study examined the weights and microbiomes of nearly 1,000 mothers and infants, from birth through three years old. And the short list of findings is striking.

For one thing, they found that the risk of becoming overweight was three times higher among the children of overweight women — and that’s only in the case of vaginal birth. If an overweight woman birthed by c-section, the risk of her child becoming overweight was five times higher.

Why? Simple — the way a child is born has a clear and direct impact on his or her microbiome profile. And it just so happens that bacteria in the gut has a clear and direct impact on future weight, starting from birth.

The case against cleanliness

Children are by far the most tragic casualties of the modern obesity crisis. But research like this could help stop it.

This study zeroed in on one strain of bacteria (called Lachnospiraceae) in particular — an abundance of which appeared to mediate both maternal and child weight. But there are likely more where that came from.

At the very least, this should be a call to avoid unnecessary c-sections whenever possible. Because when babies miss exposure to critical microbiota in the birth canal, it has consequences. And as this study shows, they can be long-lasting.

On the other hand, it’s also a good opportunity to remind parents that there are other ways to nurture your child’s bacterial diversity besides vaginal birth.

One way, as I’ve mentioned here before, is to avoid excessive sterility. Parents err toward antibacterial everything — especially when it comes to babies. The problem here is that regular exposure to “germs” is important to prime the immune system. And without it, your baby faces higher risk of eczema, allergies, and asthma.

Another way, of course, is to give your child a probiotic supplement. My recommendation of Dr. Ohhira’s holds for patients of all ages. If your child is able to swallow capsules, one a day should do the trick. If not, you can simply break the capsule open and mix the contents in with your child’s food.

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