1. Section Editor(s): Yang, Irene PhD, RN

Article Content

The "microbiome." It's a buzzword these days, and it's more than likely that you've encountered the term in the popular media. Reports link the microbiome to all sorts of things from irritable bowel syndrome to asthma to heart disease. Fueling the excitement is research that has begun to characterize, in greater detail than ever before, the microbial communities that live on and in our body, and investigate the links between these communities and our health.


So what exactly is the microbiome? What is its relevance to human health? And what is behind all the excitement? The human microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms that live on and in the human body. Clinicians have long been aware of the pathogenic and commensal nature of microbes in relation to human health. Now, however, with the advent of high throughput deoxyribonucleic acid sequencing technology, we are able to study, not only individual organisms, but entire communities of bacteria more rapidly and with a depth and precision that has never before been possible. The body hosts many unique microbiome habitats, for example, mouth, skin, gut, and vagina. Each of these microbial communities is intricately connected to our health and wellbeing.


What does this mean for maternal newborn health? The research is just starting to emerge, but previously held dogmas that mother-baby environments like the placenta and breast milk are sterile, have already been found to be untrue. These environments harbor microbiomes (Aagaard et al., 2014; Hunt et al., 2011) that are likely beneficial for pregnancy and newborn development. This leads to more questions: What does a normal microbiome in pregnancy look like? What biopsychosocial factors influence these microbiomes and how then do changes in the microbiome impact pregnancy outcomes? Health? Infant development?


Nurse researchers at Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing are investigating these questions. This special topics series on the pregnancy, mother, and baby microbiomes include four articles by our team of faculty and doctoral students reviewing current knowledge of microbiome considerations that impact nursing care during childbirth. The first article presents current knowledge on prenatal factors that influence the maternal gut microbiome and clinical implications that potentially shape how we educate and care for pregnant women. The second article reviews evidence on factors related to the labor and birth environment. How does nursing care during labor and birth influence the mother-baby microbiome? The third article covers the postpartum factors and newborn care decisions that influence the maternal newborn microbiome. And finally, microbiome considerations for nursing care in the complex environment of the NICU are presented.


A deeper understanding of the function and diversity of microbes in our various human habitat niches will inform the education and care we provide to childbearing families, opening the door to the development of new diagnostics and interventions that predict illness, and target microbiome manipulation to optimize healthy outcomes. Much research remains to be done. We are excited, as nurse researchers, to bring our unique perspective to the field. We hope you will find this introduction to the world of microbiome and maternal newborn health helpful as you do the important work of caring for pregnant women, childbearing families, and newborns.




Aagaard K., Ma J., Antony K. M., Ganu R., Petrosino J., Versalovic J. (2014). The placenta harbors a unique microbiome. Science Translational Medicine, 6(237), 237ra65. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3008599 [Context Link]


Hunt K. M., Foster J. A., Forney L. J., Schutte U. M., Beck D. L., Abdo Z., ..., McGuire M. A. (2011). Characterization of the diversity and temporal stability of bacterial communities in human milk. PloS One, 6(6), e21313. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021313 [Context Link]