Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Microbiome and Fetus: A Relationship for Life

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Microbiome and Fetus: A Relationship for Life

Article excerpt

The microbiome has finally come of age. The newest revelations show that the microbes we carry in our gut affect our behavior and well-being in unexpected ways. The gut microbiome has been associated with psychiatric, gastrointestinal (GI), autoimmune, allergy, and cardiovascular disorders, to name a few. The research on the microbiome grows exponentially in multiple arenas-medicine, neuroscience, and psychiatry, as well as microbiology, neuroimmunology, and genetics. The microbiome will prove to be a vast frontier of new understandings about our health, behavior, and development. Recently, the microbiome has been proven to be an important component of the prenatal environment, and therefore should be of interest to those in the field of pre- and perinatal psychology. The documentary film, Microbirth, has popularized the importance of infant's early microbiome, and starts with childbirth. The premise of the movie is that the fetus grows in a sterile environment and receives its first "inoculum" of bacteria as it traverses the birth canal, or skin in Caesarean section delivery. The main point of the movie is that the microbes from the vagina should be the first source of microbes for the baby, and that aberrations in gut microbial development occur following Caesarean section births. The producers suggest that indeed the high prevalence of Caesarean deliveries may be the specific cause of dysbiosis, and the disorders in our society which are related to it. The majority of the data on which the conclusions are based come from the work of Dr. DominguezBello and colleagues (2010) who appear frequently in the documentary. It would not be my intention to argue against vaginal delivery, however, I suspect acquisition of the microbes is not one of the major reasons to support it. Considering the covering of the newborn with vernix caseosa, a lipid-and-protein-rich insulating and antimicrobial layer designed to protect the infant against microbial invasion, I would guess that microbe acquisition is not primary in nature's intent for the delivery process. Most importantly in this paper, we will reconsider the fundamental notion that the "womb is sterile." The evidence available suggests the opposite, that the womb has a plethora of important beneficial bacteria actually transmitted to fetus by mother for very important developmental reasons.

Re-examining our relationship with bacteria and consideration of the fetus and microbiome relationship will be the main topic of this paper. There has been an explosion of research in this area in the last ten years and many of the papers cited here will be from 2011 through 2015. The full depth of the vast research in this area, in multiple subspecialties, is beyond the scope of this paper. But I am hoping to introduce this fascinating and important "paradigm shift" of the non-sterile womb, and to suggest how we may further investigate the microbiome in fetal development.

The Sterile Womb Hypothesis

The sterile womb hypothesis originated in the 1900s with a French pediatrician named Henri Tissier. It has been stated that he "declared" or "asserted" that the fetus grew in a sterile environment until it traversed the birth canal. His ability to know the fetus was sterile was limited. Bacteria were discovered with a single lens microscope by Leeuwenhoek in 1674 but the germ theory of disease was not formulated until the 1870's. In the early 1900's Paul Ehrlich made the connection between bacteria, disease, and the immune system defense. Ehrlich also began one of the first searches for targeted antimicrobial therapy against syphilis. Targeted antimicrobial therapy, against specific organisms, is of course prevalent today, as is hand washing and "sterile procedures" in hospitals. Though, in the 1900's, Dr. Eli Metchnikoff noted the longevity and health of peasants who ate yogurt frequently, and thus made a connection between bacteria and health, most of our modern conception of bacteria relates to disease. …

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