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Placenta Might Have Its Own Helpful Bacteria

This 'community' may serve crucial role in preparing newborns for life outside the womb, researchers say
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The investigators found a very sparse bacterial community in the placenta, much less dense than the bacteria that populate a person's gut.

"For every pound of placenta, you get one gram of bacterial DNA," Aagaard said. "It's tiny, but you can measure it and it changes over time."

Aagaard suspects this placental bacteria likely provides a baby with its first "seeding" of healthy microbes, as opposed to the widely held theory that newborns receive their initial dose of bacteria from the mother's vagina during delivery.

"As a clinician, that explanation really doesn't make any sense," she said.

Closely examining the types of bacteria found in the placenta, the researchers concluded they are most similar to the mouth's microbial community.

The study authors believe that bacteria from the mouth make their way to the placenta through the bloodstream, a hypothesis Moritz agrees with.

"Every time you brush your teeth, bacteria are entering your bloodstream and they go everywhere," he said. "It's usually cleansed by the body, but when it's not you can end up with bacterial infections."

Moritz considers oral health a key to a healthy pregnancy.

"I send all my patients for dental cleaning at 20-some weeks, just to make sure there are no pockets of bacteria that can cause premature labor," he said.

Aagaard and her colleagues plan to explore the connection between oral and placental bacteria in a follow-up study involving more than 500 women at risk for preterm birth.

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