Skin to skin for the win

Skin to skin contact with baby is not just for bonding, it can help develop a healthy gut and immune system. Babies are born with essentially no microbiome and a very immature immune system. The gut microbiome is a complex ecosystem of millions of microbes and important for development of the immune system. The first microbes to colonize baby’s gut, skin, and mouth help teach the immune system what’s harmful and what’s not. Birth is an incredible process that starts this process. Passage through the birth canal allows baby’s gut to be colonized with healthy bacteria from the vagina. This good bacteria takes residence in baby’s gut to reduce the risk of immune-related diseases, asthma/allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases and obesity. A vaginal birth is not always possible, though. Another way that babies get exposed to this good bacteria, regardless of birth method, is through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. Bacteria present in breast milk and on the skin around the nipple have been shown to contribute to this process. Some of the complex sugars in human milk are indigestible in the newborn, but are the perfect food for a subspecies of bacteria that coat intestinal wall, boost digestive function, and provide protection from harmful bacteria. Even if you had a c-section and are not directly breastfeeding, placing your baby in just a diaper on your naked chest helps boost baby’s immune system by exposing them to your good bacteria.