The Connection Between Dirty Diapers and Childhood Health

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Cesarean sections and breast feeding can have lifelong effects on a baby’s health, and researchers may have uncovered why.

It’s all about the bugs. Or, to be more precise, the bacteria that live in the gut to help digest food and, it turns out, perform a host of other important functions.

In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers led by Anita Kozyrskyj found that babies born by C-section harbored a different set of microbes in their digestive tracts than those born vaginally, and that infants who were breast-fed had a different recipe of bacteria in their guts than those who were given formula.

“Our goal is to show that some decision about elective C-sections may cause changes that parents can’t see but nevertheless affect development,” says Kozyrskyj.

(MORE: Gut Bugs: They Are What You Eat)

The findings add to the growing number of studies that expose more of the hidden universe of these microbes and the role they may play in the risk of conditions ranging from asthma to autism, obesity and cancer. The researchers studied 24 babies and compared the bacteria found in stool samples collected when the infants were 3 months old.

Previous studies have linked cesarean delivery to a higher risk of asthma, diabetes and obesity, but the reason wasn’t clear. Now, Kozyrskyj and her colleagues, led by Meghan Azad, suggest that at least part of that heightened risk may be due to the microbes colonizing the babies’ guts.

(MORE: The Good Bugs: How the Germs in Your Body Keep You Healthy)

During vaginal delivery, for example, babies are baptized to the world of bacteria, viruses and other pathogens as they pass through the birth canal; birth is, in a sense, their first immunization against the bugs they are likely to encounter in their new environment as their still developing immune systems get to work taking stock of the microbes. Babies pick up the microbial content of their mother’s gut. Over time, the babies’ immune systems start to distinguish between friend and foe in the microbial world, and launch attacks on potentially harmful bugs while leaving beneficial ones, like those that live in the gut, alone.

Cesarean section, however, bypasses this immunizing opportunity, and may leave newborns more vulnerable to certain infections since their immune systems are still catching up. In the study, infants born by C-section had fewer colonies of Escherichia and Shigella bacteria than those born vaginally. These are the seeding species, says Kozyrskyj, and lay the foundation for the next groups of microbes to come. They are critical for priming the newborn’s immune system to learn which agents are potentially dangerous and which, particularly those on foods, can be given a pass. “We are still learning about this, but it seems that there is an order [to the colonization],” she says. “And if there is an order, then timing is important.”

(MORE: What Do Gut Bugs Have to Do With High Cholesterol? A Lot)

Breast feeding also resulted in a change in microbes, with formula-fed babies showing more Peptostreptococcaceae bacteria and Clostridium difficile. In adults, C. difficile infection is associated with diarrhea and unpleasant side effects, and while babies don’t seem to be as affected by the bacteria, the presence of C. difficile could push out the Escherichia and Shigella that are so critical to developing a strong and healthy immune system.

Whether these differences translate into varied risk for disease isn’t clear yet; the study only documented the different combinations of microbes found in each group of infants. But Kozyrskyj says she plans to connect these changes to childhood conditions to find any possible associations between certain microbial communities and conditions such as allergy or asthma. “The next step is to link these changes to childhood conditions and assess whether these children have different risks for diseases, how severe their conditions are and what the patterns of these diseases are,” she says. As more studies hint that the richness and diversity of the microbial community can be an important indicator of a newborn’s health, taking stock of what’s in the diaper may actually make sense.

47 comments
NadineAbrahams
NadineAbrahams

my baby born by cesarean has and amaxing immune system Genetically confirmed passed from mother to baby when forming into embryo via placenta my child is amazingly healthy and energegetic for a 6 year old. this is not real. I did breastfeed for 6 months And I belive this is a more viable more likely cause of high immune system then a vaginal delivery.

Bontemedical
Bontemedical

Interesting article, I would like to see a study that compares infant bacterial flaura comparison of natural born without any epidurals or pain killers vs delivery using pain medications. I have a theory that certain pain killing drugs cross the placental barrier and damages healthy less vibrant bacteria. Gram negative bacteria are harder to kill than other classes, some tests have shown a difference in the amounts of certain gut bacteria in autistic children at a very early age vs regular children.

The bacterial flaura play an enormous role in our health and it's just starting to get recognized.

mrhawkes
mrhawkes

@JayGordonMDFAAP As a doctor please provide scientific #evidence for this statement. #stopavn @JulieLeask @DrRachie @ColemansenD

ann_donovan
ann_donovan

@JayGordonMDFAAP Perhaps in the near future cesarean born babies will B inoculated w/their mother's bacterial flora. #kidshealth #pregnancy

ToorJaved
ToorJaved

@ChitraChaudhuri hi whats ur question

theGaryBproject
theGaryBproject

@TIME @timehealthland @lvt227 probably explains everything thats wrong with me #c-sectionbaby #killmenow

Hardison31306
Hardison31306

@TIME @TIMEHealthland my son was breast fed and c section and hes barely sick if ever and hes skinny as a post.. scare tactics

NtsakoBaloyi
NtsakoBaloyi

Breast feeding! Aowa banna! “@TIME: How C-sections and breast feeding affect a baby's health | http://t.co/x8YEObgI (via @TIMEHealthland)”

lulu2lalas
lulu2lalas

why use the word "gut" so repeatedly, it bothered me.

MichaelWilding
MichaelWilding

If a C-section delivery deprives the baby of the right kind of bacteria, it would seem a simple procedure to transfer some of that bacteria to the baby right after delivery.   Problem solved.

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

The study is utter claptrap . The mothers have the ( nice ) bugs in their gut . ( Nothing to do with the vaginal passage ) . When the baby is born , the same bugs are in the babys gut . Whether vaginal or c-cut the bugs are there . A bit like pro-lifers that say you get cancer if you have an abortion .

Denesius
Denesius

@Bontemedical "natural born"? What a lovely term to banter about- no doubt a male who has never experienced childbirth.  So a vaginal birth with local anesthetic is now "unnatural"?  I don't see E.coli responding to the molecular trace levels of narcotics present in a patient receiving epidural, a local anesthetic. If you have contrary data, please share. Otherwise, your theory is more internet drivel.

JulieLeask
JulieLeask

@mrhawkes @JayGordonMDFAAP @DrRachie @ColemansenD "Whether these differences translate into varied risk for disease isn’t clear yet"

hardlysteven
hardlysteven

@eskillman14 see? I don't make everything up!

jpjacquet
jpjacquet

“@CUREHDSAORG: @CTurlington Please retweet http://t.co/1RDgk4Ca Educate for a Cure for Huntingtons disease/my friend died of it Today

pinkymomo
pinkymomo

@MatreshkaCats yeah both Jeffrey & Jaycey by c-sect

DrAlexConcorde
DrAlexConcorde

@tbiosensors yes - tho Im getting irate w how much KNOWN sci remakes the headlines as 'new'! we just seem to keep rehashing not *improving!

CUREHDSAORG
CUREHDSAORG

@jpjacquet So sorry for your loss. Im deeply committed to tweeting until a cure is found. I will pray for u and hope you have many blessings

MatreshkaCats
MatreshkaCats

@pinkymomo @mthasia ㅋㅋㅋㅋ yea I hear until traumatized too.

pinkymomo
pinkymomo

@mthasia @MatreshkaCats aunty dont scare her any more kkkkk

mthasia
mthasia

@MatreshkaCats @pinkymomo DONT WANT! GO AWAY!

MatreshkaCats
MatreshkaCats

@pinkymomo @mthasia actually I heard a lot more horror stories. Mamon one is nothing. Wanna go eat red bean banana I can tell u over dessert

mthasia
mthasia

@pinkymomo LOL all so scary!!! its okay. i have enough horror story frm you already… LOL

pinkymomo
pinkymomo

@mthasia loll damm my bad. i will stop telling u about kids starting from today!

pinkymomo
pinkymomo

@mthasia @MatreshkaCats evrythig on Jeffrey wasnt in plan. evrythig on Jaycey was planned, from try to conceive bc i want her to born 8/8/08

mthasia
mthasia

@pinkymomo its true!!! imagine you being me hearing all this!! and already hating kids so much!

mthasia
mthasia

@pinkymomo i think i will never want to get married and have kids thanks to you mamon! all your horror stories!

pinkymomo
pinkymomo

@mthasia after induced, my contraction pain start increased, abt 6 hrs later, i was sent to emergency room lolll

mthasia
mthasia

@pinkymomo @matreshkacats OMG *HORROR*

pinkymomo
pinkymomo

@mthasia @MatreshkaCats bcs i was already in contraction state, water broke. baby start uneasy so he shitting so the water bcome browny

mthasia
mthasia

@MatreshkaCats @pinkymomo how he shit inside?!?!??!

pinkymomo
pinkymomo

@MatreshkaCats jeffrey was induced but he started to shit in my womb so must go by c-sect. everything on jaycey was under my plan kkkk