Fact Sheet: Importance of the Microbiome in Newborn Infants
By Dr Anna Byrom
Midwife, Director of All4Maternity
The importance of your baby’s skin
Your baby’s skin begins to mature after birth and continues until your child is at least two years old (1). Caring for your baby’s skin from the moment of birth will be something you regularly consider, from nappy changing to cleansing and bathing. There are things you can do to promote healthy skin and optimise the health of your baby in the short and long-term. This article will help to support you with evidence-based information and tips when caring for your newborn.
Newborn skin plays several important roles and functions, including:
Protection: Healthy skin acts as a physical barrier against harmful micro-organisms, toxins, and environmental factors that could cause infection or damage.
Regulation of body temperature: The skin helps to regulate the baby’s body temperature by sweating and releasing heat.
Sensation: The skin contains nerve endings that enable your baby to feel touch, pain, and temperature changes.
Synthesis of vitamin D: The skin produces vitamin D when exposed to safe levels of sunlight, which is essential for the baby’s bone and immune system development.
Development of the immune system: The skin is colonised by a diverse community of microorganisms that play a crucial role in the development and function of the immune system.
What is the newborn skin microbiome?
Newborn infant skin microbiome is the community of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, that live on and within the skin of babies. The skin microbiome begins to develop shortly after birth. Initially, a baby’s skin is mostly sterile, but it quickly becomes colonized by various microorganisms from the environment. These microorganisms play a crucial role in supporting your baby’s health and development, protecting the skin from infection and regulating inflammation, and contributing to the development of the immune system. Research suggests that the composition of the baby skin microbiome may impact the risk of developing certain skin conditions and allergies later in life. (2)
Here are some ways you can support a healthy skin microbiome for your newborn:
Skin-to-skin contact: Skin-to-skin contact between the mother and baby can help to transfer beneficial bacteria to the baby’s skin microbiome. (3)
Breastfeeding: Breast milk contains beneficial bacteria that can help to colonize the baby’s gut and skin microbiome. Research has shown that breastfed infants have a more diverse skin microbiome than formula-fed infants. (4)
Mindful baby hygiene and skin care: Bathing of baby should be delayed until at least 6 hours post birth (5). Harsh chemicals which can irritate the skin and disrupt the skin’s natural microbiome should be avoided. To maintain the newborn skin’s barrier function and help prevent infection, appropriate cleansers and emollients should be used. (6)
Limiting antibiotics: Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of the skin microbiome by killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria. Parents should only use antibiotics when necessary and follow the doctor’s instructions carefully. (7)
Promoting a healthy gut microbiome: A healthy gut microbiome can also promote a healthy skin microbiome. Understanding healthy eating is important for yourself, and also for weaning your baby when the time comes, especially in relation to ultra-processed foods. (8)
Research on the baby skin microbiome is still evolving, and more studies are needed to fully understand its role in infant health. In the meantime this factsheet will support you to nurture a diverse and balanced skin microbiome, promoting healthy skin and the overall well-being for your baby.
- Oranges T, Dini V, Romanelli M. Skin Physiology of the Neonate and Infant: Clinical Implications. Adv Wound Care. 2015;1(4). doi: https://doi.10.1089/wound.2015.0642.
- Łoś-Rycharska E, Gołębiewski M, Grzybowski T, Rogalla-Ładniak U, Krogulska A. The microbiome and its impact on food allergy and atopic dermatitis in children. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2020 Oct;37(5):641-650. doi: 10.5114/ada.2019.90120. Epub 2020 Nov 7. PMID: 33240001; PMCID: PMC7675070.
- Biasucci G, Rubini M, Riboni S, et al. Mode of delivery affects the bacterial community in the newborn gut. Early Hum Dev. 2010;86 Suppl 1:13-15.
- Jost T, Lacroix C, Braegger CP, et al. New insights in gut microbiota establishment in healthy breastfed neonates. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e44595.
- World Health Organization. (2014). WHO recommendations on postnatal care of the mother and newborn. World Health Organization. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/97603
- Telofski LS, Morello AP 3rd, Mack Correa MC, Stamatas GN. The infant skin barrier: can we preserve, protect, and enhance the barrier? Dermatol Res Pract. 2012:198789.
- Capone KA, Dowd SE, Stamatas GN, Nikolovski J. Diversity of the human skin microbiome early in life. J Invest Dermatol. 2011;131(10):2026-2032.
- Van Tulleken C, Ultra-Processed People: Why Do We All Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food … and Why Can’t We Stop? (2023) Cornerstone Press.