60-Second Science

Baby's Bacteria Related to Birth Method

A small study finds that C-section babies pick up different microbial starter communities than do babies delivered vaginally. Karen Hopkin reports

Each of us harbors a unique collection of bacteria, on our outsides and our insides. Now, scientists are finding that the bacteria you get at birth may depend on how you got here. Because babies born vaginally have a different set of microbes than those that arrive by Caesarean-section. The work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Maria Dominguez-Bello et al.,]

The uterus is a sterile environment. So, in the womb, babies don’t have any bacteria to call their own. It’s only once they enter the world that they begin to collect the microbes that will colonize their bodies and help shape their immunity. But where do these bugs come from?

Scientists sampled the bacterial flora from nine newborns and their mothers. And they found that babies who passed through the birth canal harbored bacteria that matched their moms’ vaginal microbiota. Whereas babies delivered by C-section had microbes typically found on the skin.

The scientists say the results could help explain why babies that arrive by C-section are more susceptible to certain infections. Vaginal microbes might be quicker than skin bugs at snagging all the best bodily real estate, a land grab that could keep harmful infections from getting a foot in the door.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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