Purpose of review
Humans and their commensal microbiota coexist in a complex ecosystem molded by evolutionary and ecological factors. Ecological opportunity is the prospective, lineage-specific characteristic of an environment that contains both niche availability leading to persistence coupled with niche discordance that drives selection within that lineage. The newborn gut ecosystem presents vast ecological opportunity. Herein, factors affecting perinatal infant microbiome composition are discussed.
Establishing a healthy microbiota in early life is required for immunological programming and prevention of both short-term and long-term health outcomes. The holobiont theory infers that host genetics contributes to microbiome composition. However, in most human studies, environmental factors are predominantly responsible for microbiome composition and function. Key perinatal elements are route of delivery, diet and the environment in which that infant resides. Vaginal delivery seeds an initial microbiome, and breastfeeding refines the community by providing additional microbes, human milk oligosaccharides and immunological proteins.
Early life represents an opportunity to implement clinical practices that promote the optimal seeding and feeding of the gut microbial ecosystem. These include reducing nonemergent cesarean deliveries, avoiding the use of antibiotics, and promoting exclusive breastfeeding.