The maternal microbiome and weight of the baby
Childhood obesity is on the rise – there is no doubt. And there are a number of factors that could contribute, including less outdoor playtime subbed with more screen time, increased consumption of processed foods, and negative environmental factors.
And it seems a big component in determining the weight of our offspring are early-life influences on the microbiome.
Holy wow – its there ANYTHING the microbiome has not got its bacterial hands in?
Well, evidence is building in scientific-research-land on the mum and bub bug connection, as well as other factors impacting a baby’s microbial composition. Which is huge, and a little daunting to grasp at the same time. Let’s take a look at what some of the science is saying.
Overweight and obesity
Before we go on, when we discuss topics such overweight and obesity, the concern is due to the negative health impacts associated with excess weight. The human race is a great ol’ mix of shapes and sizes, which is wonderful! We each have a weight and state of health that is optimal, and gaining too many kilos beyond what is good for each of us can lead to health issues.
On that note, several studies have come to the conclusion that several factors in the early years may promote a disposition to weight gain, including:
- Early-infant feeding practices5
- Maternal microbiome
- Breast milk microbiome3
- Dietary choices
Pre and post-natal influences on baby’s gut bugs include maternal microbial health and composition, birth mode, antibiotic exposure, breast milk composition, whether feeding breast milk or not, and exposure to probiotics and prebiotics. And alterations to gut bug function related to these influences include propensity to eat more and store fat, and remaining in a state of low-grade inflammation.4
According to one paper, formula feeding has been shown to alter the microbiome of the infant, increasing inflammation, gut permeability and bacterial load. It also notes several studies making the connection between formula feeding and obesity in later life. 5
We have discussed previously infant and toddler formulas, and to make it clear that infant formula is necessary and life saving in some situations. Fortunately, in Australia and New Zealand infant formulas have strict guidelines around nutrient composition (and sugar content).
But if promoting a robust and kick-ass baby microbiome is important, maybe mama’s boob juice should be the number one choice (provided you have the choice).
A class of bacterial species – Bacteroides – gradually increases in population size from birth, with its initial colonisation (and that of many other species) influenced by mode of birth, infant nutrition and use of antibiotics. 4
Now, abundance of Bacteroides vs Firmicutes population is more common to leaner individuals.2 And gut flora not only seems to influence the future child’s weight, but each of our own as well.
Want to boost Bacteroides numbers? Feed your gut bugs! Increase your intake of fibre – namely fructoligosaccharides found in legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Soft drinks are a no go
A recent study published that even artificially sweetened beverages lead to a bigger bub weight.1 And we have previously discussed the implications of excess fructose consumption on the baby whilst in utero.
It is important to re-iterate our message from that same article, about the mother needing support from their partner and close community in making healthy choices. The Gogglebox couch session with hubby smashing Mountain Dew next to his pregnant lady will NOT make it easy for her to kick any taste for soda – diet versions or not.
The composition of human flora populations will also impact the health and quality of life of mum. So working on maintaining gut health is a win-win right?
One of the biggest players in feeding the bad gut bugs is our old friend refined sugar. A little in life is completely fine – but in excess may spell trouble for you and the littlies.
This further supports the need to limit added sugar intake in our littlies diet. Even when we think we are choosing something healthy the higher sugar content can lead to dysbiosis (a negative imbalance in gut flora populations). Add this to poor inoculation in early life, it is possible we are setting the kids up for short and long-term health issues.
The power of the gut
Gut health can be determined by the resilience and permeability of the intestinal lining, and the balance of good and bad bacteria housed there. It is very likely that the status of ideal health in this space is different across cultures and even in individuals.
Whilst gut microbial composition is first set in place from birth, there are external influences, including diet that can assist with creating balance or imbalance, throughout life. Which is good news – as we have the power to change our health through the foods we eat!
Therefore, consider boosting healthy maternal microbial populations, as it will benefit you as well as your future bub in numerous ways. We have discussed how in other articles, but here are a few tips:
Avoid soft drink and sugar sweetened beverages, and replace with:
- Soda water, lemon, lime and mint
- Soda water, berries, basil and
- Chill ginger and mint based teas with a little sweetener of your own choice (so you know EXACTLY how much added sugar you are adding), such as minimally processed raw honey or maple syrup, or a tablespoon of water from ½ cup of water that has had several dates soaking.
Avoid super refined foods, including grains, meats, oils (anything heavily processed), replacing:
- Processed grains like white wheat flour, rice flour, corn flour with wholegrain version (usually brown!) or seed alternatives such as buckwheat, quinoa or amaranth.
- Vegetable oils with first cold pressed extra virgin coconut or olive oil.
- Deli meats with grass fed, organically raised meat, wild game, or legumes, nuts and seeds.
- fibre to feed your gut bugs
- at least 2 litres of water (to ensure all that fibre moves through!).
There is SO MUCH to consider when pregnant. Chat with your healthcare practitioner, mid-wife and obstetrician for further support, and to discuss further what to consume and not to consume throughout pregnancy to meet your individual needs. Just remember that everyone is different, and pregnancy impacts each mother differently. Be kind to yourself, and know that by nourishing yourself and your gut bugs you may help your baby’s health as well.
By Angela Johnson.
- Azad MB, Sharma AK, de Souza RJ, et al. 2016, ‘Association Between Artificially Sweetened Beverage Consumption During Pregnancy and Infant Body Mass Index’, JAMA Pediatrics, Published online May 09, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0301
- Cardinelli, CS, Sala, PC, Alves, CC, Torrinhas, RS, & Waitzberg, DL 2015, ‘Influence of intestinal microbiota on body weight gain: a narrative review of the literature’, Obesity Surgery, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 346-353
- Garcia-Mantrana, I & Collado, MC 2016, ‘Obesity and overweight: Impact on maternal and milk microbiome and their role for infant health and nutrition’, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research (Epub ahead of print).
- Koleva, PT, Bridgman, SL, & Kozyrskyj, AL 2015, ‘The infant gut microbiome: evidence for obesity risk and dietary intervention’, Nutrients, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 2237-2260.
- O’Sullivan, A, Farver, M, & Smilowitz, JT 2015, ‘The Influence of Early Infant-Feeding Practices on the Intestinal Microbiome and Body Composition in Infants’, Nutrition And Metabolic Insights, vol. 8, no. Suppl 1, pp. 1-9.