The past couple of years have seen more germ-related research, thinking and discussion than ever, and there is a noteable swing away from the one-sided view that germs are ‘bad’ things to be avoided and washed away with antibacterial soap and towards a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of our human microbiome; the mass of bacteria which are the key to our survival. As I have pointed out elsewhere, to my knowledge, bacteria don’t have an ethical dimension! But I have had a number of enquiries on this topic in the past year and I wanted to provide an overview of resources for those who help women, particularly in a childbirth education setting, and who are looking for ways to incorporate discussions about this area into their sessions.
Firstly, I have not written an overview of the research in this area on my website. That’s because Jessie Johnson-Cash and Rachel Reed already did just that, and it contains everything that I would have said and more. If you haven’t see it, it’s a great read: The Human Microbiome: considerations for pregnancy, birth and early mothering
Another useful resource is a more recent Science and Sensibility blog post by Anne Estes, which has some really useful illustrations by Cara Gibson: The Healthy Birth: Dyad or Triad? Exploring Birth and the Microbiome
I have blogged about a couple of the specific research projects in this area whose findings may be of particular interest to those discussing the implications of different decisions with parents-to-be: there’s one on Maternal antibiotics (e.g. for GBS) and imbalance in baby’s gut bacteria and another entitled Mode of birth and feeding matter for bugs!
I’ve been exploring bacteria in other ways this Autumn as well! When I illustrated one of the above blog posts with this rather colourful picture, which is actually a molecular model of bacterial cytoplasm, a certain couple of midwives who are interested in the microbiome commented that they thought at first glance that I might have photographed some of my knitting! (In truth, I’ve got such a short attention span that I’ve never knitted anything that big!)
That started me thinking about how it might be quite useful to have a friendly bacteria in my bag as a conversation starter and a way of engaging people in discussion about these recent advances in our knowledge, so I took myself into the garden with a cup of tea that afternoon and knitted the first of an entire friendly family of bifidobacterium infantis, who are pictured here. (I have a few which are for sale in aid of my website running costs … if you’re interested, drop me a message!)
How are you incorporating bacteria into your classes?
If you’ve got time to post (and I understand it’s a busy time of year), I’d be interested to hear how other people are incorporating this into childbirth education. Do we need more resources? Do you feel informed enough about this area? How are you managing/discussing the data which shows that normal birth and breastfeeding are better for bacterial colonisation alongside the work which is looking at seeding and caesarean section? Do you feel that there are tensions in this area? And is this greater understanding making it easier or more difficult for women and their families to understand why interventions such as prophylactic antibiotics for group B strep need to be considered from both sides of the fence?
This post was part of my 2015 blogfest, during which I wrote a blog post every day for two weeks as a way of saying thank you to those who are helping keep my free and ad-free information activities online. If my work helps you in yours and you would like to make a donation and help me keep all of these resources free and heart-funded through 2016, please click here and make a donation. Thank you for caring about women and babies.