The colonization of the gut with microbes in early life is critical to the developing newborn immune system, metabolic function and potentially future health. Maternal microbes are transmitted to offspring during childbirth, representing a key step in the colonization of the infant gut. Studies of infant meconium suggest that bacteria are present in the foetal gut prior to birth, meaning that colonization could occur prenatally. Animal studies have shown that prenatal transmission of microbes to the foetus is possible, and physiological changes observed in pregnant mothers indicate that in utero transfer is likely in humans as well. However, direct evidence of in utero transfer of bacteria in humans is lacking. Understanding the timing and mechanisms involved in the first colonization of the human gut is critical to a comprehensive understanding of the early life gut microbiome. This review will discuss the evidence supporting in utero transmission of microbes from mother to infants. We also review sources of transferred bacteria, physiological mechanisms of transfer and modifiers of maternal microbiomes and their potential role in early life infant health. Well-designed longitudinal birth studies that account for established modifiers of the gut microbiome are challenging, but will be necessary to confirm in utero transfer and further our knowledge of the prenatal microbiome.
- foetal development
- gut microbiome