For babies born via Cesarean section, being swabbed with fluid from mom’s birth canal may provide a quick start on a healthy immune system.
In recent years, the human microbiome has gotten a lot of attention—for good reason. The trillions of microbes that live in and on our bodies play a critical role in our lives. The microbiome has a role in food digestion and nutrient utilization, is an important partner to the immune system, and has far reaching effects, even on the brain itself.
Conversely, the microbiome is also implicated in infectious vulnerability and possibly plays a role in the development of autoimmune disorders. As studies continue to delve into the human microbiome, some scientists and physicians are moving to assist the microbiome of babies born via C-section. Why?
C-section and Mom’s Microbes
In an Opinion published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the organization offers information on vaginal seeding, along with recommendations for its use.
As noted by ACOG, “Vaginal seeding refers to the practice of inoculating a cotton gauze or a cotton swab with vaginal fluids to transfer the vaginal flora to the mouth, nose, or skin of a newborn infant. The intended purpose of vaginal seeding is to transfer maternal vaginal bacteria to the newborn.”
The Opinion cites recent research that notes an increase in the number of C-sections in the US and in developed countries. Correspondingly, the number of children who suffer from asthma and autoimmune disease has also increased. Although a causal relationship has not been definitively established, some suggest that babies who are not naturally exposed to the microbial environment of the birth canal may be missing out on important benefits to their developing microbiome.
For babies with parents participating in vaginal seeding, the baby is swabbed over their body, including arms, legs chest, abdomen, back, cheeks, and face as quickly after birth as is practical and safe.
Beyond exposure in the birth canal, mothers transmit microbial messages to their babies through skin-to-skin contact and, importantly, breastfeeding.
Research is ongoing into the practice of vaginal seeding to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of the protocol. Currently ACOG does not support the practice outside of “the context of an institutional review board-approved research protocol.”
While the transmission of mom’s microbiome to baby sounds great—and occurs naturally during a vaginal birth—there are also concerns. If the vaginal fluid is not tested for the herpes virus or dangerous bacteria like streptococci, the infant could become infected at birth.
Still, there is cautious optimism that providing baby with some of the natural environment they miss in the birth canal could prove a potent assist in avoiding, or decreasing the odds of chronic disease.
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