How do mothers influence the gut microbiomes of their infants

May 1, 2020   /  

Student: Kathleen Loftus
Major: Biology
Advisors: Dr. Sharon Lynn, Dr. Rick Lehtinen

Kathleen LoftusThe purpose of this literature review was to investigate how mothers influence the gut microbiomes of their infants. Communication via the gut microbiome is integral for homeostasis and proper functioning and signaling of the metabolic, immune, endocrine and nervous systems. Prenatal, birthing, and postnatal influences show implications for predicting and combating adverse developmental effects related to infant gut dysbiosis. Further research on the long term effects of altered infant intestinal colonization can provide a deeper mechanistic understanding of the dynamics of the gut microbiome throughout life and their effects over the body.

Kathleen will be online to field comments on May 8:
Noon-2pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

80 thoughts on “How do mothers influence the gut microbiomes of their infants”

  1. Congrats, Kat!! I loved this presentation so much and this is such an interesting topic. So proud of you girl!!

    1. Thanks Brooke!! I’m glad you enjoyed it and I can’t wait to see what you have yet to accomplish at woo academically and athletically yourself!

  2. KAT! This is so good and very interesting! I’m so proud of you and all of the things you will accomplish!! I miss you and love you and will see you so so soon!! Congratulations!

    1. MALEY!! Thanks for checking out my project. I miss you and love you too! Hope to see you soon πŸ™‚

  3. Great work, Kat!! This is very interesting! Congratulations and good luck with your future endeavors!

    1. Thank you, Eva! Your work ethic and the dedication you put into your IS has been such a good influence on me.

  4. Incredible work, Kat! I don’t know enough about basic microbiology to ask a question, but my mind is like blown away by all of this! Keep up the hustle!

    1. Brandon, thanks for being such a positive source of energy this past semester at woo! So glad I had the chance to get to know you.

  5. Thank you for sharing your literature review. What are your plans after graduation?

    1. I was happy to! My plan is to work in research for the next year, ideally in a position having to do with the oral microbiome. I will be attending dental school in the fall of 2021.

  6. Hi Kathleen
    So interesting and important for families! Thanks for all your great research. Congratulation!

  7. Congrats! What do you think was the most interesting thing you learned during your IS?

    1. Thanks, Eli! Wanting to be a future dentist, the most shocking thing I found was an association between periodontitis and preterm labor. Since 65% of women experience gingivitis during pregnancy, increased gum bleeding may contribute to transferring microbes from the mouth to the fetus via the bloodstream. Mothers with periodontitis, which is a serious gum infection, may be more likely to transfer harmful oral bacteria that can threaten the pregnancy.

  8. Kathleen, your project is so interesting to me! When I took Microbiology this topic was mentioned but not really elaborated on, so I read a few articles about the development of babies during vaginal delivery compared to Cesarean section delivery–incredible stuff! Thanks for sharing your hard work.

    1. I am glad you are also interested in the topic! It seems the influence of healthy microbes is often overlooked in healthcare. I think this field will expand in the future with more longitudinal studies and newer technology!!

  9. Thank you for your in depth review of a topic that has grown over the last few years and as you note has room to continue to grow. You highlight the need for longitudinal research. In your review, did you come across good studies that are longitudinal that have already started? If so what are the focus of those? If not, do you have ideas for study designs or the most pressing questions in this area that should be addressed from longitudinal research?

    1. Unfortunately, I did not come across any longitudinal studies that have already started. I think one of the most promising and reasonable longitudinal studies would be tracking the effects of swabbing c-section infants with vaginal microbes immediately after birth. Recording development and changes in the gut microbial community over time along with health outcomes and comparing this to normal c-section infants and vaginally delivered infants may rear interesting results. The main trouble with these studies is having to factor in other confounding variables like diet, lifestyle, and environment.

      1. Thank you. It is a complicating topic with so many interacting factors.

        Congratulations on all your hard work and best of luck to you!

    1. Thanks for all of the support and the fellow love of science, Gargi πŸ™‚

  10. Kat! This is pure gold. Congratulations!! So excited for you to use this research in the future and (of course!) go to dental school! Hope you celebrate big time!!

    1. Thank you dental buddy! So glad I have such a great friend to encourage and pull out the best in me!!

      1. Kathleen! I remember when you were choosing topics in Howell now look how far you have come! This is awesome!

        1. Oh what stressful time haha. Thanks for all the advice and support, Gab!!

  11. Woooo we love the microbiome!! Such a cool project and so proud of you! πŸ™‚

  12. Hi Kathleen,
    Tremendous work! It gives new meaning to “follow your gut.” I’m so proud of you – way to go!

    1. Thanks, Dad! I appreciate all of the encouragement and reassurance you have offered me along the way πŸ™‚

  13. Congrats Kathleen. This was a very interesting project. How did you first start this project at the beginning of the school year?

    1. Thank you, Jessica. I started out by overflowing my brain with primary and secondary literature. It took a lot of reading and learning along the way, and I ended up citing 112 different sources!

  14. Hi, Kathleen, from the mom of a COW alum, Fascinating study! Seems that the gut-brain connection has been more in the forefront just the last few years, but I never stopped to consider how it affects newborns until now. What are some of the diseases and disorders that may be connected to gut biomes? You referred to “maternal probiotic supplementation in breastfeeding.” Can you expand on that a little bit? Congratulations on a very interesting IS Project!

    1. Hi, Bambi! Some of the main diseases and disorders connected to dysbiosis of the gut microbiome I came across include irritable bowel syndrome, major depressive disorder, and anxiety. There is also evidence suggesting negative effects on neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative diseases.

      In terms of maternal probiotic supplementation, research suggests that infants of mothers taking probiotics containing beneficial microbes such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium during pregnancy may have a lessened risk of developing obesity.

  15. Congratulations, Kat! I thought the part of your presentation about feeding type was really interesting and is something I’ve wondered about. What do you think the next steps are for families that need to use formula/can’t breastfeed (adoptive parents, single parents etc.) to reduce the likelihood of the infant developing gut dysbiosis and other associated disorders?

    1. Thanks, Anna! So glad to have had you in the same research cohort. I think the next steps for families that need to use formula would be to consider formula with prebiotic and probiotic supplementation in it. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium seem to be two of the most beneficial microbe types, yet more research needs to be done in support of this.

  16. Congratulations on a the presentation of your IS which is timely and informative and highlights the cutting edge of our understanding of the gut microbiome. I hope you are considering University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Bowers! I really enjoyed the literature review process. The University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine is definitely on my radar.

  17. Great job Kat! What’s one thing you researched in this project that totally surprised you?

    1. Thanks, Dr. Baker! I was shocked by how interconnected the human body is. I had no idea how closely intertwined the brain and the gut are and how many factors play into proper communication between bodily systems before I began researching this topic.

  18. Kat,
    Really interesting presentation and review! Fascinated by the differences in microbial transmission and development between c section and normal delivery. You stated that there is greater C.diff growth and chances for childhood obesity and metabolic disorders for c section delivery. Just out of curiosity, do you know if patients are made aware of this information/risk by their healthcare professionals ? Is there any evidence that c section increases chances of C.diff colitis later in the life of the baby?

    Ill have to share with my co-worker who investigates the gut microbiota! Great work!

    1. Chris,
      Thanks for checking out my project!! From what I have heard from people who have experienced delivery, it depends on the doctor but most do not address microbial factors in labor. Since swabbing of c-section babies is still new to the field, most mothers do not know this is an option following c-section and most doctors do not bring it up unless prompted. I did not come across any studies looking at increases of chances of C. diff colitis later in the life of the baby, but I would have to look more into it.

      I am interested to hear what your co-worker has to say about this subject!

  19. Kat, this is fascinating!! Amazing job! Congratulations! What would you say was the most surprising result you found in this literature review?

    1. Thank you, Danie!! So happy you checked it out. One of the most surprising things to me is all of the evidence behind microbes from a mother’s oral microbiome being found in the placental environment and in the guts of newborns.

  20. I very much enjoyed your presentation, Kat. This is fascinating research, which has implications in fields other than biology and fetal development, because it not only challenges the “sterile womb” paradigm, but also challenges the very idea of the “self” as an isolated, impermeable entity. I wonder if you came across a discussion of “microchimerism” in your research, which is the term used to describe the transfer of vestigial DNA from mother to fetus, as well as fetus to mother. Research on microchimerism, along with research on gut biomes, have contributed to a “porous” conception of the self, or what some describe as “leaky bodies.” Thanks for a thought-provoking presentation.

    1. Thanks for checking out my project, Dr. Tierney. I too believe this research can span into other areas such as sociological implications and birthing practices in various countries. I have not come across microchimerism before but this is a fascinating phenomenon. I do think the “porous” conception of self holds merit as society often overlooks the fact that we are one organisms, yet we house and are covered in endless other organisms that can play into behavioral and physiological responses.

  21. Kat,
    Very interesting presentation. I am aware of the growing body of research and evidence establishing a link between the gut and immunity. I found your focus on pre-natal and neo natal gut biome fascinating. Congratulations!

    1. Thank you, Mrs. Roski!! I will have to look more into connections between the gut and immunity. It is crazy how these microbes affect so much in our bodies!

  22. Kat what an interesting project. So proud of all your hard work and perseverance and glad you had a chance to work with Dr. Lynn. You continue to represent Wooster Volleyball well and demonstrate our team’s commitment to being “Excellent in the Classroom and Excellent on the Court”.


    1. Thanks, Coach Davis! I appreciate all of your support along the way and am happy I can be an example for other students.

  23. Congrats Kat!!! Your topic is so interesting! So proud of you!

    1. Thank you, Katie! I can’t wait to check out your IS in the future too πŸ™‚

  24. Congratulations, Katherine!
    As a midwife and lactation consultant, I use the infant microbiome concept all the time and strive to protect it to the extent I can, so when I saw your title, I started listening right away.
    Questions for you:
    1) Many midwifery organizations are shifting to inclusive language to identify parents, since not everyone bearing a child identifies as a “mother.” Is this something you ran across?
    2) ACOG’s 2017 clinical opinion says for obgyn physicians to perform vaginal seeding only in the context of an IRB-approved research protocol. I believe you referred to initially positive research findings about seeding. Given what I have seen as the lack of conclusive findings of the benefits of seeding (granted it sounds like it would be a great idea and granted my last lit search was sometime last year), I have wondered if there could be a biological analogy between vaginal seeding and between feeding expressed breast milk (EBM) rather than feeding an infant directly at the breast/chest. Feeding EBM confers benefits but does not equal feeding directly at the breast/chest. Being born vaginally confers benefits other than just microbiome exposure, e.g., a lower risk of immediate respiratory distress. Thus seeding could confer some but not all benefits of vaginal birth.
    In any case, thank you for this important work.
    (Parent of a ’13 Wooster alum.)

    1. Hi Moira!
      Thanks for checking out my project, it’s awesome to get feedback from your prospective and work experience.

      1) I did not come across the shifting towards inclusive language to identify parents, that is something that did not even cross my mind. It is important to step back from the generalizations that accompany the identity of “mother” in today’s society and I am glad organizations are taking this into account.
      2) The few results I have found supporting the benefits of seeding were based on rather short-term studies following birth. Longitudinal studies would be the next step in really solidifying if seeding makes a difference over time. Investigating a possible analogy between vaginal seeding and feeding expressed breast milk sounds like a great direction to take further studies too. I also had no idea vaginally delivered infants have lower risk of immediate respiratory distress, super interesting!

      Thank you for your expertise! I have learned a lot from reading your comments. I would also be happy to send my thesis paper your way if you have interest in reading more.

  25. Congratulations on completing your IS, Katherine.

    Yours is a timely and deep topic, about which we in the non-medical are only now becoming aware. It will be fascinating to see what you and other experts learn about maternal/fetal gut health in the coming years, and how that knowledge will improve pre- and post-natal care.

    Best wishes beyond Wooster!

    1. Thank you, Mary. I also agree it will be fascinating to see which directions this field will take in the future and the discoveries ahead!

  26. Nice job, Kathleen. Enjoyed your presentation a lot. A nice orderly review of the importance of gut microflora really put your research in perspective. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for watching my presentation, Craig! I am glad the format was easy for people to follow πŸ™‚

  27. Loved your IS! I have been reading a lot about the “gut/brain” connection. Current research suggests that many of our diseases originate in the gut microbiome. Was eye opening to learn that problems may go way back to pre-natal experiences and the delivery experience itself.

    The concept of microbial swabbing post birth was particularly interesting. I would bet that many new moms would not even realize about this swabbing after they had a C-section.


    1. Thanks, Rhonda! It has been great to hear nursing perspectives on the topic. I am excited to see what other gut/brain connections are discovered in the future and if vaginal seeding will be offered to more mothers.

  28. Kat, I really enjoyed your research with something I had never thought about. Some of our grandchildren were born via C-section… Good luck to you as you move on in your studies. Come see us anytime and tell your Mom to stop in when she is out this way.

    1. Aw thank you! Glad you enjoyed reading it and thank you for coming to all of our games. I loved seeing and chatting with you.

  29. You’ve done a great and thorough review of such an important and fascinating topic. Excellent work and presentation, Kat. Congrats!

    1. Thank you, Dr. Boes! You have been such an inspiration and constant source of support throughout my Wooster career.

  30. Kat,

    Amazing work! I am very proud of you! Do you believe that compiling a literature review of this size, detail, and magnitude allowed you to develop a deeper understanding of the material that would not have been gathered if you had other tasks at hand? I can imagine that you learned so much from this literature review that may not have been learned if only a few weeks were spent on it.

    How do you think this literature will assist future studies that will be done in this field? Are there any routes to further investigation that your literature review specifically highlighted besides the one mentioned in your presentation?

    1. Thanks, Marina. I am blown away by how much you can learn from conducting a year long literature review. I have always had interest in the topic, but did not have much background knowledge on it so this format was a perfect fit for me.

      Some other therapeutic interventions not mentioned in my presentation include tracking the vaginal microbe community throughout pregnancy to catch and combat infection that may threaten the fetus earlier on and to perform fecal transplants in treating gut dysbiosis.

  31. Congrats on a great project, Kat! Future dentist extraordinaire! Love you!

  32. This is such a great topic to explore. Congrats on graduation Kat!

  33. Congrats Kat!! You have such a bright future ahead of you and I am grateful for our time together at Wooster!

  34. Hi Kathleen,
    I enjoyed listening to your IS project. Your presentation is impressive and I found it very interesting! Great job!

  35. Congratulations on completing your IS and offering your literature review on an important topic! As a doctoral physical therapy student with an interest in women’s health, I appreciated your review of the long term impacts of pre-,peri-, and post-natal impacts on the infant. In my experience, individuals tend to not have as much awareness on the influences from a mother to an infant, even during the years prior to pregnancy. In your research, did you come across how these studies and risks are communicated to the public for advocacy of prenatal health and patient education?

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