Why are some C-section mums swabbing their babies with vaginal fluid?
It's the latest birthing trend and may offer C-section babies valuable protection from their mummies that they may not otherwise get...
Earlier this year, a US mum named Carolyn Weiss — who gave birth via scheduled C-section — had a strange request in her birth plan. One hour before she gave birth, she wanted a piece of saline-soaked gauze placed in her vagina. Just before her surgery, the gauze was to be removed and placed in a sealed container. Moments after the birth, her husband was to take the gauze and rub it inside their baby’s mouth, around the eyes and on the skin.
It turns out that this practice, which is called “seeding” is really not that strange after all.
But we’ll come back to Carolyn’s story later in this article. First, we tell you all about the process of seeding and why it perhaps makes sense to do it for C-section babies.
Our bodies are home to trillions of microbes
According to a report in The Guardian, the science behind the trend of vaginal seeding explains why it is growing in popularity.
The report explains,
the human body is home to an estimated 100tn microorganisms that form a complex ecosystem known as the microbiome. Scientists are just beginning to understand the tremendously vital role the microbiome plays in human health, but emerging research shows that these trillions of little guys (which collectively weigh about 2.5lb [1kg]) keep very busy.
Some of the health advantages of these microorganisms include benefits to the immune system, and assistance with dealing with infection and processing food.
While the biggest populations of microbes are found in the intestines and colon, they are also found elsewhere, including the skin, mouth, lungs and, you guessed it, vagina.
Babies born vaginally get a good dose of mummy-microbes
We have been taught to think of microbes as our enemies. But now, according to The Guardian report, “scientists are beginning to understand the level to which humans and their microbes share a mutually beneficial relationship, beginning at birth.”
To explain, when a baby is the womb, his gut is probably a sterile environment until the membranes rupture and the water breaks.
Researchers believe that at this point, the baby’s microbiome is first colonised by his mum’s bacteria, and as he travels through the birth canal, he continues to be coated with his mother’s microbes.
The report says that right after birth, “a baby’s microbiome closely resembles the bacteria of the mom’s vagina,” and this is believed to give the baby protection from harmful pathogens and illnesses after birth.
C-section babies’ microbiomes are colonised by the wrong microbes
When a baby is born via C-section, he doesn’t get the dose of mummy-bacteria that a baby born via vaginal birth gets.
He still gets exposed to bacteria, but in this case, his bacterial community looks like the bacterial communities found on skin. Of course some of it is his mummy’s, but this microbial presence also comes from doctors, nurses and even other hospital patients.
Now this is a problem because pioneer colonisation by such bacteria “may make a baby more susceptible to harmful pathogens and eventual illness.”
According to research, babies born via C-section are more likely than those born vaginally to suffer from problems such as allergies, eczema and asthma, and are also more likely to be hospitalized for gastroenteritis.
Researchers now believe that this can be partly explained by these babies not getting the dose of their mothers’ vaginal bacteria that a vaginally born baby gets.
A solution for C-section babies
Dr Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello is a microbiologist from New York University who has been studying the microbiome for several years.
For years, she’s been trying to find out if there is a way C-section babies can get the bacterial benefits a vaginally-born baby does, through a process called seeding, where the baby is swabbed with his mum’s vaginal fluids.
Dominguez-Bello reportedly conducted a study in Puerto Rico last year, where she used her technique on 21 babies.
The results show that her technique — “remove the baby from mom’s uterus; swab its mouth, eyes and skin; place on mom’s chest” – does have a positive impact on a C-section newborn’s microbiome.
The researcher hopes her technique will soon be adopted into the mainstream birthing process and thereby help “lower the risk of illness in babies born surgically.”
Looking for protection against allergies and eczema
Now we go back to Carolyn Weiss who was introduced at the beginning of this article.
The Guardian report says that Carolyn’s first daughter born via C-section suffered from eczema and also has food allergies. When Carolyn was researching into possible causes for these condition, she came across Dominguez-Bello’s study.
She wanted to give seeding a try when she became pregnant with her second child and was told she’d have to deliver the baby via C-section too.
Carolyn said , “Our doctor is generally supportive of the idea, but he won’t do it himself. That task will fall to my husband.”
According to the report, seeding may present “some risk in spreading infection to the baby, so it’s imperative that a mom has a healthy microbial ecology, checking, for example, they have an acid lactobacillus-dominated vagina, are HIV- and strep-B negative, and showing no signs of an STD.”
But all in all, the technique shows signs of promise — the million dollar question is, would you give it a try?
Mums, is seeding something you would consider, if you were going in for a scheduled C-section? Do share your thoughts on the topic by leaving a comment below.