Vaginal seeding, a controversial new trend in childbirth, may help restore “good bacteria” in babies born by Caesarean section. Babies born vaginally have higher amounts of good bacteria which some scientists believe help protect babies from developing certain diseases when they grow older. Now some researchers are investigating methods to transfer a mother’s microbiota to her baby if it’s born by Caesarian.
Caesarean section is now the most common operating room procedure in the United States, according to a February 2014 release from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Doctors deliver nearly one-third of all babies by Caesarian, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bringing about 1,284,551 children into the world this way each year. This means that more than a million babies are born each year that may not be getting the beneficial microbes transferred to them during the birth process.
Most expectant mothers want to deliver vaginally, or “naturally” as it is sometimes called, and will do what they can to ensure a vaginal delivery. Nature doesn’t always plot an easy path though, and sometimes intervention is necessary. Caesarian section, or C-section, is sometimes an elective procedure, but becomes a medical necessity when labor and delivery poses a danger to the health of the mother, the baby, or both.
Vaginal birth exposes a baby to the mother’s microbiota as the child travels down the birth canal. The wide variety of bacteria provides many benefits, such as helping the baby digest her first meal. Babies born by Caesarian miss this exposure.
Babies born by vaginal birth develop a microbiota that closely resembles their mother’s vaginal bacteria community, while those born by C-section develop microbes that look more like adult skin. Research links delivery by Caesarian section with higher rates of asthma, being overweight, and autoimmune conditions, but scientists do not yet know if the differences in microbiota account for the higher rates of these issues.
Vaginal seeding is a procedure that exposes babies born by C-section to their mothers’ microbiota immediately after delivery. During vaginal seeding, a member of the labor and delivery staff inserts a fan-shaped piece of gauze into the mother’s vagina for approximately one hour to allow it to absorb bacterial cultures present there. The gauze holds the mother’s vaginal fluids, and the vaginal microbes contained within that fluid. A staff member then rubs the gauze on the newborn’s mouth, face, and body within the first moments of the baby’s life. The purpose of vaginal seeding is to reduce the difference between biomes of babies born by vaginal birth and those born by C-section by some degree.
Many experts, including a number of contributors to the British Medical Journal have cautioned against the practice since it is relatively new and unproven, and carries potential risks for infection from harmful bacteria such as Strep-B. Others have acknowledged that proper screening for infectious bacteria is necessary, but once screened negative, the practice delivers benefits for the microbiota of the newborn.
A group of researchers from the United States and Puerto Rico conducted a pilot study to investigate the safety and efficacy of vaginal seeding, referred to as ‘microbial restoration procedure’ in this study. The scientists enrolled 18 infant-mother pairs. Seven mothers in the study delivered their babies vaginally, while the other 11 delivered by scheduled C-section. Of the 11 C-section babies, four underwent vaginal seeding within the first two minutes of life.
The researchers collected samples of the babies’ anal, oral, and skin microbiota six different times during the first month. They found that the bacterial communities in the oral, anal and skin samples of babies who had vaginal seeding were similar to vaginally delivered infants.
None of the infants in this small study experienced adverse side effects from the procedure. All the mothers participating in the study breastfed, so diet was not a factor. The study results suggest that vaginal seeding can partially restore the complement of microbes in infants born by Caesarian section.
The authors concluded that vaginal seeding partially restored the complement of vaginal microbes in infants who received this intervention at birth. They speculated that antibiotics accompanying C-section procedures might prevent the full restoration of the vaginal microbiota, or that the procedure of transferring bacteria from the vagina to the gauze to the baby does not transfer bacteria adequately. The researchers also said that the preliminary data gained from the study is not enough to justify implementing large scale vaginal seeding, at least not just yet. It’s interesting research, none-the-less, and we will continue to follow the new developments in this field.
Regardless of how your baby is born, what research has continued to show us over and over again is that one particular species of bacteria is predominant in the digestive tract of healthy, breastfed babies. That bacteria is B. infantis and a research team at U.C. Davis has even gone so far as to name it the “champion colonizer of the infant gut” due its unique ability to break down human breast milk for the baby. The same team also stated that in laboratory cell studies B. infantis, “…displays anti-inflammatory activity in premature intestinal cells, and decreases intestinal permeability.” This is the same species that Natren has recommended for 25+ years in our Life Start probiotics designed specifically for infants and pregnant or nursing mothers.
To learn more about the importance of infant gut health please see our previous blogs on this topic here: https://www.natren.com/blog/tag/children/ — be sure to hit the “next” button at the bottom of this page to see all previous blogs in this category!