Our mothers have a huge impact on who we are and on the choices we make, right down to what we eat. Her voice stays in our head from childhood – haunting and motivating us at the same time. But we have more than our mother’s voice driving our behaviors and choices in life. We also have the effects of her nutritional choices, and that influence started long before we were born.
The importance of a mother’s nutritional intake for the optimal health and immune system of her baby has long been recognized. The parents’ nutrition, especially the mother’s, has also shown to impact the child’s health and well-being throughout life*. It has recently been suggested that the microbial balance of the GI tract may explain some of the influence of maternal diet on the health of the child and is passed on through the placenta, through the birth process, and via breastfeeding. These exposures establish the microbiome of the child and therefore influence weight, health, psychological health, and immune system function throughout life.
Studies show that vaginal births decrease infections in infants because the mother passes along beneficial microbial bacteria during delivery. Additionally, beneficial bacteria contained within the mother’s GI tract support the increased energy demands required for the development and growth of the fetus and provide a solid foundation for the infant’s gut microbiome. There also seems to be a connection between the microbial balance of breast milk and the establishment of the microbiome of the infant.
Prenatal care with an overall health and nutritional approach is important because a mother’s diet influences the developing fetus at conception. If you or someone you know plans to become pregnant, talk with a doctor about establishing a healthy diet and lifestyle before pregnancy. It’s smart to get a head start on a healthy gut for both you and your unborn child!
*The exact mechanisms by which this complex interaction occurred have been poorly defined.
Macpherson AJ , Gomez de Agüero M, Ganal-Vonarburg SC. How nutrition and the maternal microbiota shape the neonatal immune system. Nature Reviews Immunology volume 17, pages 508–517 (2017). doi:10.1038/nri.2017.58
Chu DM, Meyer KM, Prince AL, Aagaard KM. Impact of maternal nutrition in pregnancy and lactation on offspring gut microbial composition and function. Gut Microbes. 2016;7(6):459-470. doi:10.1080/19490976.2016.1241357.