Incorporating bacteria into childbirth education

germs1The 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.


Bacteria-related resources

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

I have, however, written a two-part article in which I gave more of a potted overview for midwives and, if you’d like to read that, it’s here: Rethinking Bugs (with part two here).

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!

Knitting bugs!

4464549449_f18a3a0fc6I’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!)


germs4That 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!)

I also discovered this fab page of knitting patterns for those who want to make their own!

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?


donatebuttonThis 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.


photo credit: A molecular model of the bacterial cytoplasm by Adrian Elcock via photopin (license)

5 comments for “Incorporating bacteria into childbirth education

  1. Jessie Johnson-Cash
    December 10, 2015 at 7:02 am

    They are beautiful and I think they are a wonderful tool to add to your bag of tricks.
    Following on from this, Rachel and I have recently authored an article for AIMS, written for women with information about supporting a healthy microbiome for their babies.

    • December 10, 2015 at 8:55 am

      Thank you! I was aware of that one, and will add a link to it when it’s available 😀

  2. Jessie Johnson-Cash
    December 10, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Excuse my shameless self promotion. Excited about my first published writing 🙂

    • December 10, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Haha, no worries! Congratulations 😀

  3. December 10, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I’m captivated by recent/ongoing developments in the microbiome field. I discuss with all clients the value of embedding seeding into birth preferences in the ‘what if’s’, and pinning a sterile gauze swab in mat notes, purely to serve as a visual reminder to care team of intentions.

    We talk about the importance of not only vaginal microbes, but through S2S & b/f also, and to encourage only necessary contact with baby in the early days, so that familiar germs are the feature.

    Such a simple procedure, with nothing to lose. If Mother/Father carry our swabbing, all the better.

    I raise awareness of this topic with my positive birth group, sharing relevant articles, encouraging discussion. It’s not seized upon as readily as most other birthy issues, and I get that #happytobeagermnerd

    Having said that it’s in people’s thoughts, and within our group women are considering it as part of discussions with their care team 🙂 Featured in Milli’s recent article, as a client carried out swabbing during her unplanned c/s – big news here in Wales!

    Lisa (Doula)

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