The millions of bacteria, fungi, viruses (human microbiome) that live on and within us are extremely important for our health in all sorts of ways. The birth experience (as the baby travels down the birth canal) is one way that a mother's microbes get transmitted to the baby ("seeds" the baby's microbiome). But babies born by Cesarean delivery start out picking up different species of microbes - from dust in the operating room.
Thus there has been concern with the possibility that a baby born by C-section, as compared to a vaginal delivery, will have life long microbiome differences. Swedish researchers studied this issue in 471 children and determined that by 5 years of age that the microbiome differences at birth and first year of life have generally disappeared. The differences in microbial composition had decreased to less than 2% in the 2 groups. This is good news!
Over the 5 years everyone had a great increase in the number of microbial species that live in the gut. The gut microbiome became more "adult-like", but it wasn't yet like that of adults. A conclusion was that not only does it take years to develop adult microbial complexity, but there is also individual variation in how long this takes. A person's diet, especially the introduction of solid foods, and environment all have an effect on species diversity and composition.
By the way, another way mothers transmit hundreds of species of microbes to their babies is during nursing in the breast milk (this is great!), and these species change over time. This is a good reason to breast feed - it's not just the nutrition, but also the microbes.
From Science Daily: Gut microbiota in Cesarean-born babies catches up
Infants born by cesarean section have a relatively meager array of bacteria in the gut. But by the age of three to five years they are broadly in line with their peers. This is shown by a study that also shows that it takes a remarkably long time for the mature intestinal microbiota to get established.
Fredrik Bäckhed, Professor of Molecular Medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, has been heading this research. The study, conducted in collaboration with Halland County Hospital in Halmstad, is now published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.
Professor Bäckhed and his group have previously demonstrated that the composition of children's intestinal microbiota is affected by their mode of delivery and diet. In the current study, the researchers examined in detail how the composition of intestinal bacteria in 471 children born at the hospital in Halmstad had developed.
The first fecal sample was collected when each child was a newborn infant. Thereafter, sampling took place at 4 months, 12 months, 3 years and 5 years. The scientists were thus able to follow the successive incorporation of various bacteria into the children's gut microbiota.
At birth, the infant's intestine has already been colonized by bacteria and other microorganisms. During the first few years of life, the richness of species steadily increases. What is now emerging is a considerably more detailed picture of this developmental trajectory.
One key conclusion is that the intestinal microbiota forms an ecosystem that takes a long time to mature. Even at 5 years of age, the system is incomplete. The maturation process can look very different from one child to another, and take varying lengths of time.
At the age of 4 months, the gut microbiota in the cesarean-born infants was less diverse compared with vaginally born infants. However, when the children were 3 and 5 years the microbiota diversity and composition had caught up and were largely normalized intestinal microbiota.
"It's striking that even at the age of 5 years, several of the bacteria that are important components of the intestinal microbiota in adults are missing in the children," he continues.
This indicates that the intestine is a complex and dynamic environment where bacteria create conditions for one another's colonization.
According to the researchers, the current study has broadened our understanding of how humans interact with the trillions of bacteria contained in our bodies, and of how these bacteria become established.