I recently read this wonderful account by mum Amber about her gorgeous twin boys Luca and Levi (you can follow their story on Amber’s Facebook page Nutrition Naturally). It caught my eye firstly because twin studies, especially when monozygotic (identical) are particularly valuable for determining environmental risk factors impact on health. When one identical twin develops a disease but the other doesn’t – researchers can learn valuable information about environmental risk impact. Also because Amber’s observations about the difference in health between her two boys and the manner by which they were birthed, struck a chord and re-inforced my own clinical observations.
Every patient I have ever consulted with over the years (adults and especially children), I have enquired into their manner of birth and extent of breastfeeding. You see bacteria are an essential part of our being from the minute we are born and are integral to our immediate and long term health. Currently one in three births are via c-section. This procedure is a very new thing in evolutionary terms and early research confirms that this birthing procedure does affect health because C-section babies are not inoculated with natural bacteria like those delivered vaginally.
Formula fed babies have also been found to have different gut bacteria. Breast milk contains a lot of sugars which a newborn baby cannot metabolise. But the babies newly inoculated gut bacteria need these sugars to multiply. Breast milk also has its own range of bacteria which benefits the newborn.
In my own clinical experience, I have seen a definite link between certain health issues and events that have compromised the integrity of gut flora in the early years of ones life. I understand that C-section deliveries are lifesaving procedures and in many cases absolutely essential. The purpose of this post is not to alienate or worry parents of children that were born via c-section or formula-fed, rather empower them to go the extra mile to support their childs’ health in order to rebuild and support their gut health. Healing is available to each and every one of us.
Here is Amber’s story…
I recently read an article on Facebook about ‘seeding’, where mothers are swabbing their vaginal fluid over and inside the mouths of their newborn babies who are born via caesarian section. My first reaction was a typical ‘gross’, however after a small amount of thought it makes perfect sense. As a baby travels down the birth canal they are exposed to over 300 beneficial bacteria which aid in developing their immune system. Babies who are born via caesarian section are not exposed to these bacteria, therefore their immune system is often compromised. I now find myself wishing that I had discovered this small piece of knowledge just over a year ago.
You see, I have identical twin boys. They are genetically the same, a zygosity test confirmed that their DNA is a 99.9999997% match. From the beginning of their existence they have been exposed to the same factors, both genetically and environmentally. They were developed in the same womb, have always had the same routine, always sleep for the same amount of time, have eaten the same food and most days the same amount, their teeth come through and they hit developmental milestones within days of each other, they have the same mannerisms etc.
While they do have their individual personalities and we do encourage them to be separate individuals, there is no denying that genetically they are the same. So why is it that one of my boys has suffered from eczema, constipation and generally gets sicker for longer, while the other doesn’t? The only thing that makes sense to me and the only thing that they have experienced differently, was their birth.
Different births, different level of health
Levi’s birth was a very uncomplicated vaginal birth, while Luca got stuck, things became very complicated very quickly and he was born via emergency caesarian section. Levi was exposed to those 300 beneficial bacterial in the birthing canal, while Luca wasn’t.
Apart from a bit of a rocky entrance into the world, my boys were healthy and happy. For reasons out of my control I was unable to breast feed, so for the first 5 months of their lives Levi and Luca had a mixture of expressed breast milk and formula, then only formula from 5 months onwards. I was always aware of the benefit of healthy bacteria in the gut so Levi and Luca have had a daily dose of baby biotics since birth.
Luca has always had more of a sensitive tummy, often spitting up after a feed, he still does. If they pick up a virus, Lucas symptoms are more severe and he doesn’t recover as quickly as Levi. At 6 months old, when we started solids, Luca developed eczema, while Levi never did. Luca also started getting very constipated and still does regularly, Levi hasn’t ever been constipated. While my boys are generally healthy babies, Luca has definitely shown multiple signs of having a weaker immune system than Levi.
There has been a lot of new evidence which shows that gut microbiome (bacteria) is linked to the immune system and that the gut contributes to up to 75% of one’s immune system. Gut microbiome communicates with, and activates an immune response within the protective layer of cells lining the gut. Therefore, because Luca was not exposed to the microbiome in the birthing canal, it makes sense that he has a lower immune response than Levi, as well as suffering from eczema. Being exposed to the all same genetic and environmental factors, except their birth, makes my identical twin boys a perfect little research project.
A change in diet
Over the past few months my family and I have significantly changed our diet to further support a healthy gut and in turn, a strong immune system. Levi and Luca have organic greek yogurt with beneficial bacteria to support gut health and they also have non-homogenized cow’s milk, which is much better for the gut than homogenized cow’s milk. We are also wheat-free. Wheat is highly inflammatory and very damaging to the gut and immune system (more on this here). Wheat is known to be a leading cause of leaky gut syndrome: a condition in which the gut lining becomes very porous, allowing undigested food molecules, toxins, harmful bacteria and waste into the blood stream. We have also eliminated all processed sugars, additives and preservatives from our diet. I have included into our diet many foods which support gut health, such as fermented vegetables, bone both, healthy fats and foods rich in omega-3.
On the road to recovery
Since changing our diet I have seen significant changes in our children’s health. Luca’s eczema has completely cleared up and my children have not been sick at all. It really amazes me how having been born via caesarian section can have so much influence over a child’s immune system. My boys are living proof of this. I am just so thankful that I have been given the knowledge and resources required to support their gut health and improve their overall health and wellbeing.
To find out more about Amber and her families health journey, connect with her on Facebook.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Ambers journey as much as I did. I know this is just one families experience, but it is very much a reflection of what I have seen with many patients in my 20years as a Naturopath. A whole food diet can and does shift the ecology of the gut. It is not a quick fix, rather cumulative, so I expect Ambers boys will continue to grow constitutionally stronger and stronger.
Questions? I’d love you to post yours in the comments below.