Dad Plays Role in His Infant's Microbiome

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Key Takeaways

  • A newborn gets some of the gut bacteria they need from their dad

  • Researchers found a number of strains in babies that came from their father rather than their mother

  • These included bacteria that help digest mother’s milk

WEDNESDAY, June 12, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Dads appear to make a small but important contribution to a newborn baby’s gut health, a new study discovers.

Many microbes found in babies throughout their first year of life originate in the father rather than the mother, researchers report June 12 in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Most importantly, these include Bifidobacterium longum strains – a bacteria that aids in the digestion of a mother’s milk.

“The role of the father may be small, but it is not to be neglected,” said lead researcher Willem de Vos, a professor of microbiology with Wageningen University in The Netherlands. “It is likely that the same holds for others who have close contact with the newborn.”

Babies are born without any microbes in their GI tract, researchers explained. They receive these important and beneficial microbes during and shortly after birth.

It’s well-known that babies receive a substantial amount of microbes from their mothers during vaginal delivery. In fact, about half of the bacterial strains found in a baby’s gut can be traced to their moms.

That led researchers to consider how other people who have close contact with an infant could contribute to the other half of their gut microbiome, providing a stable source of healthy microbial strains necessary for good health.

“This highlights the importance of studying other microbial contributions as well, such as those from siblings and from daycare peers,” said researcher Nicola Segata, a professor of computational metagenomics with the University of Trento in Italy.

A person’s microbiome contains thousands of different microbes -- bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses -- that typically play key roles in daily human health. They are known to stimulate the immune system, break down toxins, aid in digestion and synthesize certain key vitamins.

For the study, researchers analyzed the fecal microbiomes of 73 infants, 21 of whom were born via Cesarian section and 52 born vaginally. They collected samples from babies at three weeks, three months and a year, and compared them to samples taken from the baby’s mother and father.

“Knowing that the father substantially contributes to a baby’s developing microbiome underlies the important role of physical and social interactions between the newborn and their father, as well as with other family members,” Segata said in a journal news release. “We hope this study will help to create awareness of those important contributions."

About a quarter of births worldwide occur via C-section, researchers noted. Those babies might need bacterial transplants from both mother and father to make sure they have healthy gut bacteria.

For example, another study from the team has found that a transplant from a mother can significantly reduce the levels of harmful bacterial strains in a baby’s gut for up to a year, researchers noted.

More information

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has more on the microbiome.

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, June 12, 2024

What This Means For You

Both fathers and mothers contribute to a baby’s healthy gut bacteria, simply by interacting with newborns.

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