A new study has found that a pregnant mother’s placenta has an array of bacteria that may impact the health of the baby. This may help provide an explanation for why periodontal disease and urinary tract infections are strongly linked to premature birth and why treating the diseases during the pregnancy do not necessary lower the risk.
That means that women considering becoming pregnant should treat bacterial conditions before the pregnancy begins whenever possible.
The research findings are still preliminary, but they raise the need for more study into many aspects of the relationship between pregnancy, periodontal disease and other conditions caused by bacterial infection. It also suggests that that additional studies are needed on the effectiveness of taking antibiotics during pregnancy.
The study was headed by Dr. Kjersti Aagaard and also found that the bacteria in the gut of the newborn may be influenced by the newfound bacteria in the placenta, the organ that a pregnant mother grows to regulate the health of the baby.
Studies are underway by a variety of researchers to better understand the so-called microbiome, the collection of trillions of microbes that inhabit the human body. These include fungi and viruses as well as bacteria and impact metabolism, digestion and many other processes and may be involved in diabetes, obesity and other conditions.
According to the new study, a bad mixture of bacteria in the placenta may lead to premature births. A definitive connection between periodontal disease and premature birth influenced by placenta bacteria could not be made because only one woman in the study had gum disease.
If additional research confirms the important role of the placenta in the establishment of gut bacteria, this could prove good news for babies who have been born by cesarean section. It has long been believed that babies born by c-section miss out on the good bacteria that they could have picked up in the birth canal.
The study’s first author Dr. Aagaard said that parents should be reassured that a c-section doesn’t permanently doom an infant to a deficient microbiome for the rest of his or her life.
While studies in the past have examined bacteria on the skin and in the mouth, vagina and intestines, interest has turned only recently to the placenta. This special organ that forms inside a pregnant woman serves as a life support system for the fetus, providing nutrients and oxygen while removing waste and secreting hormones.
Dr. Aagaard’s team became interested in the placenta and any bacteria it contained because they noticed that the bacteria in the vagina of a mother were not necessarily the ones in the gut of the baby. So where did the bacteria come from? Interest turned to the placenta.
The researchers collected placentas from 320 women, most Hispanic or black. Most delivered vaginally, but some had c-sections. Some babies were premature.
They found that while the placenta is not teeming with bacteria, it is present. The intestines are 90 percent bacteria, but the placenta is only about 10 percent bacteria. About 300 kinds of bacteria were observed.
When comparing the types of bacteria and their concentrations to those found in other parts of the body like the skin, nose, vagina and gut, the closest correlation was to the mouth, which is also similar to a baby’s intestines during the first week of its life.
Other scientists have stepped up to say that this new research agrees with findings they are discovering, indicating that old understandings about how babies get their gut bacteria are flawed.
Other research also indicates that oral bacteria find their way to the placenta naturally, and this means that clearing up unhealthy bacteria before a pregnancy begins is even more important than believed in the past.
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