This post was last updated on August 19, 2021 by Preethi Sukumaran
We are in an interesting and contradictory world today. One the one hand, the rise of Western science has taken basic hygiene to unimaginable levels. So household products can successfully wipe out every last germ in our clothes or our hands. But on the other hand, this increasingly sterile world has many fall outs. Our immunity levels are lower than what they used to be and our children are weaker, less healthy and perpetually fall sick. How do we balance this seeming contraindication? This is the first in Krya’s 3 part series on the Baby microbiome. This series will explain the current body of research on the Baby microbiome, share Ayurvedic insights on the same and leave you with solid recommendations to boost baby’s immunity and health.
Joshua Lederberg first coined the term “Microbiota” to distinguish the bacteria that colonize, populate and symbiotically live on us. The current world view lies in seeing ourselves as separate from the “germs or bacteria” that live on us, and treat them as opportunistic parasites that feed off us and have to be therefore be removed or eradicate.
However the growing body of research is instead choosing to view human beings and indeed living beings as the “Holobiont”. The Holobiont is the host body + all the associated micro organisms that co-exist and live on the body of the host. The Holobiont is being postulated as the evolutionary edge for living organisms and species: and it is the composition of Microbiota AND host organism that presents the unique evolutionary edge and not the host body alone.
The Human Microbiota includes fungi, bacteria and archea. This does not include opportunistic micro animals like head lice which weaken the Holobiont and are purely parasitic. Research indicates that the human Holobiont is made up of 37 trillion cells: of these ¾ belong to our Human Microbiota, and only ¼ of these 37 trillion cells are contributed directly by us.
How a healthy colony of micro flora helps keep us strong & healthy
On a cell to cell comparison, we are more Micro flora than human. Our body is made up of cells of which the human part is only 10%. The balance 90% is our microbiome which colonizes various parts of us: our skin, nose, ears, reproductive organs and inside our body. Each area of our body has different species of micro flora. Microflora form a unique fingerprint for each of us: our colonies are not exactly the same, even for twins born and raised together.
A large portion of our microbiome lives in our gut. This colony decides many things about our health. They decide how healthy we are going to be and how much immunity we have. It defends us against invasive and predatory micro organisms. They help our body with digestion, assimilation and nutrient absorption. Our friendly Microbiota also boosts our brain function and helps mood regulation as well.
The human body hosts different sets of colonies in various parts of the body. Every set of microbes has its own role to play, depending on where they live. The oral microbiome acts as a gatekeeper, guarding what enters the GI tract. If the colony in your mouth is in good health and shape, they can block the entry of potentially invasive organisms into our body.
On skin, the microbiome forms a very important gatekeeper role as well. The skin micro flora prevents entry of predators into the blood and lymph. These predators if allowed, can cause huge harm as they can bypass our acid containing gut and enter the circulatory system directly , through which they can spread rapidly.
The skin microbiome helps guard this, if we take care to ensure our skin microbiome population is not unnecessary washed away. The human microbiome also bring down small inflammations in the body, help produce vitamins and digestive enzymes. In short , they support and extend healthy life for us. This is an example of a symbiotic and synergistic partnership.
Why is a healthy microbiome critical in a baby?
Human babies are born vulnerable and helpless. Their microbial colony begins to be established during pregnancy, and continues well until they are around 3 – 4 years. The successful establishment of a healthy microbial colony depends upon many factors. These include the health of the mother, the mode of delivery of the baby, feeding choices, weaning food choices, and the availability of a healthy microbiome colony in the baby’s surroundings. Some of our choices can also destroy a healthy available microbiome , for example the choice to raise baby in over sanitary surroundings.
The GI tract of the baby is especially unformed and vulnerable in the first 6 months. For example, in the first 6 months, a baby’s intestinal tract has spaces between the intestinal cells. This gap is filled as the baby grows. But in the first 6 months, the baby’s gut flora microbiome plug these intestinal gaps themselves. If these gaps are not properly plugged, undesirable molecules and invaders can squeeze through the intestine and directly enter the baby’s bloodstream.
It is safe to say that the baby’s first 3 years sets the foundation for the future health and well being of the baby. Our choices as parents can greatly impact the health and well being of our child, way into the future. This is why we are writing this series on the Krya blog this week.
Our posts this week in this series will discuss the stages of microbial colonization in the baby and some choices you can make to provide positive intervention at each stage. We will also discuss various do’s and don’t s and how Ayurveda tells us to raise baby and improve immunity. However, until the next 2 posts, here are 3 thought-starters we would like to end this post with. Each of these will impact your baby’s microbiome and therefore her health.
3 baby microbiome thought-starters:
Give baby plenty of thoughtful skin to skin contact with skin that is not over-sanitized:
Microbiome colonies spread from living organisms. So Ayurveda encourages thoughtful, selective skin to skin contact in young infants. Our microbial colonies are incredibly selective and unique. For example your right hand and left hand host a different microbial signature! For these colonies to be healthy and survive, we must ensure their surroundings are healthy as well. In an over sanitary environment, we kill off all our good bacteria – instead these environments breed super-bugs and very dangerous predators, which can thrive in this environment.
Ayurveda recommends that baby be handled and touched by the Mother and one –two selectively chosen caregivers.
The mother and “Dhatri” (nurse or additional caregiver or a nanny), must use the correct Ayurvedic herbs to bathe in. The Nursery must be kept well ventilated, yet cosy and facing in the right direction. Baby’s linen must be washed with Rakshoghna herbs.
In this environment, the use of these herbs keeps down the spread of dangerous micro organisms. This gives healthy Microbiota a chance to flourish. So, when baby is touched and handled lovingly by such caregivers, the healthy Microbiota are transferred onto baby’s skin and can colonize it.
If the Mother is breastfeeding, Ayurveda recommends proper cleansing of the breasts and mother’s skin with warming, vata pacifying, Rakshoghna herbs. When this is done, the baby absorbs the right micro flora through mouth-to-skin contact during breastfeeding.
Avoid: Cleansing mother’s skin and baby’s skin with a synthetic soap or bodywash. This wipes out all the friendly colonies of bacteria, leaving baby vulnerable to infection and disease. Use a completely natural grain and herb based Ayurvedic ubtan instead.
Reduction of electronic stress and other stress around mother & baby:
One of the key impediments to the growth of friendly bacteria is stress. When we are stressed, the pitta dosha in the body increases. This creates a high heat and acidic medicum in the body. This tends to reduce our gut bacterial colony. Also, the nature of skin and scalp secretions change in high Pitta conditions. Sweat becomes much more acidic, foul smelling and the composition of sebum also changes. This again brings down growth of friendly bacteria and instead attracts unhealthy organisms.
High use of electronic devices like Mobile, Wi-Fi, I-Pads, etc, increase subtle Vata vibrations in the air. This changes the dosha balance in the body, again leading to an unhealthy condition. Subtle electronic vibrations also thrown off our sleep cycles. When sleep is disturbed, our Microbiota are also harmed.
If the Mother is stressed, her bacterial colony is affected. Which in turn affects the baby. So Ayurveda advises a time of rest, reduction in physical work and focus on the Mother at least in the first 6 months after delivery. If this is extended upto one year this is ideal.
This post is not meant to discourage working mothers or criticize them for their choices. But, we echo Ayurveda’s emphasis on the important of rest and recovery for mothers. If this period is adhered to, we can avoid many health issues that may crop up later.
Fresh, organic home made food
Ayurveda tells us that all health begins in our gut. All Disease can be traced back to overloading the digestive system, eating improper food combinations and at the wrong timing. At the time many of the original texts were written, here was no practice of chemical farming followed. So obviously we have no explicit mentions of pesticide grown food.
But from all the available research today, we know how toxic , eating chemically farmed food is. From the Microbiome perspective, this is like consuming frequent doses of poison to the system. This harms everything in the body including your Micro biota.
For a breast feeding mother, eating fresh, organic, seasonal, home made food promotes better nutrient absorption and produce better quality breast milk as well.
Also, seasonally grown organic produce has a healthier colony of micro flora. So when we handle and cook this produce, we are enriching our own bacterial colony.
To sum up:
Through this post, we hoped to provide you a glimpse of the fascinating world that lies on our skin and in our bodies. It is not an exaggeration to say that without friendly Microbiota, human life would not exist.
Conserving, nurturing and protecting our friendly Microbiome becomes even more critical in babies. Babies’ microbiome is under developed and the choices we make for them in the first 3 years of their life has long lasting impact on their health and their Microbiota.
We also looked at 3 simple methods you can start with to encourage proper colonization of Micro biota in baby. In our next 2 posts, we will look at Microbiota colonization in baby stage by stage and also explore Ayurvedic interventions in each stage to strengthen baby’s micro biota. Stay tuned.
Krya Products recommended to encourage healthy skin colonization in Babies and Moms:
- Strongly recommended: Krya Women’s Abhyanga system (Krya Women’s Ubtan + Krya Abhyanga oil) – helps balance vata dosha and encourages the growth of friendly Microbiota while discouraging predatory microbes
Krya Products Recommended for Baby:
- Krya baby ubtans & bodywashes – made from organic or forest collected herbs, grains and lentils . Cleans thoroughly yet is extremely soothing and gentle on baby’s skin. Can be used everyday from the 1st day of baby’s birth.
- Krya baby massage oils – made using authentic ayurvedic herbs, and organic cold pressed vegetable oils processed through a rigorous ayurvedic manufacturing process. Can be used from the time a baby is 1 week old
- Krya traditional baby massage oil with Bala & ashwagandha– traditional formula that aids baby’s muscle development . Can be used from the time a baby is 1-2 days old. Not recommended for babies with sensitive skin, dermatitis, eczema or psoriasis. For these conditions, see below.
- Krya Palmarosa &Rose nourishing baby massage oil– Can be used from the time a baby is 1-2 days old. Recommended for dry , non oozing skin conditions like dermatitis, dry eczema. Not recommended for oozing skin conditions.
- Krya Lemongrass & Grapefruit nourishing baby massage oil– Can be used from the time a baby is 1-2 days old. Recommended for dry , non oozing skin conditions like dermatitis, dry eczema (sensitive skin). Not recommended for oozing skin conditions.