(IN PHOTO)Babies are pictured in a maternity ward at the Munich hospital 'Rechts der Isar' January 18, 2011. REUTERS

Scientists claim that disruptions to a person's microbiota in early life may impact the likelihood of acquiring certain diseases later in life. A new study published in Birth Defects Research Part C: Embryo Today says that the microbiota plays an active role in the growth and development of healthy infants and profound shifts in microbiota populations can have consequences on the metabolic and immunologic systems.

The microbiome refers to the tens of trillions of microorganisms that live in the intestine, respiratory tract and on the skin. Any disturbance in these microbiota could possibly contribute to a wide range of childhood diseases including allergies, asthma, obesity and autism-like neurodevelopmental conditions, according to Sharon Meropol, associate director for research and evaluation at the University Hospital (UH) Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

Meropol points out that breastfeeding, vaginal birth and skin-to-skin contact after delivery may aid a child’s microbiome development. This new study presents evidence against popular notions that development of microbiota starts at birth and the womb is a sterile environment.

"This means that not only do we have to consider the microbiome of the child but also that of the mother," Meropol said. "And the irony is that some of our modern medical practices, through their effect on these early microbiota, could have unintended consequences, interfering with normal development of children's immune, metabolic, and neurologic systems."

The researchers note that formula feeding, caesarean section, immunisations and the use of antibiotics are among the factors that have negative effects in the early microbiome. Many existing studies show that maternal and infant microbiomes influences disease risk, however, the researchers say that this new study is only at the tip of the iceberg.

Medical News Today reported that infants with less diverse gut bacteria were more likely to be allergic to certain foods like egg, milk and peanut by the age of 12 months. Another study claimed that longer breastfeeding encouraged lactic acid bacteria to flourish in their guts, promoting a healthy immune system in infants.

The experts added that further research is needed to provide more clues about these complex changes in infant development. Protecting the developmental processes of healthy microbiome is crucial to promoting infant health.

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