Mother kissing baby with vernix

Your baby’s microbiome.

Did you know that when a baby is born vaginally, they are exposed to all of the bacteria that reside in the vagina? Wait a minute. Aren’t bacteria what cause infections? Doesn’t bacteria = bad?  No! beneficial bacteria = very good! In fact, recent evidence shows that exposure to these beneficial bacteria (the microbiome) may improve your baby’s gut health and overall health for years after birth!

Babies born by cesarean are colonized by bacteria found on the skin rather than in the vaginal canal. (2019 update- here is a new article published in Nature Magazine that further shows the differences in microbial colonization after vaginal birth and cesarean birth). The differences in the microbiome may lead to measurable differences in development, physiology, immunity, and nutrition. So, does this mean that a baby born by cesarean doesn’t get to benefit from those awesome good bacteria? Absolutely not! And this is where the idea of vaginal seeding comes into play.

What is vaginal seeding? 

Vaginal seeding aims to supply babies born by cesarean with the same beneficial bacteria that they would get if they were born vaginally. In practice, it means taking a swab from the mother’s vagina and wiping the swab over the baby’s mouth, eyes, face and skin shortly after birth by cesarean. This recent study has shown the practice of vaginal seeding to restore baby’s microbiome to look like that of a baby born vaginally. Now how cool is that!?

 

Is vaginal seeding safe?

While there is consensus that exposure to “good” bacteria is generally good for health and exposure to “harmful” bacteria and viruses is not generally good for health, there is no way to assure that only the good stuff is transferred in vaginal seeding. Currently, there is no rapid screening test to determine if any harmful viruses or bacteria are present in the vagina/ on a swab so doctors won’t know if they are transferring those to your baby. Currently, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends not performing vaginal seeding until there is more research on the practice. Of course, it is the same bacteria that baby would be exposed to if it had been born vaginally and it is widely accepted that, at least in the US, vaginal birth has better outcomes for birthing people and their babies.

Talk to your provider about the benefits and risks to find out if vaginal seeding is something that may be of interest to you!

What else can I do to encourage a healthy biome? 

Breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has been shown to significantly affect the microbiome after birth. For anyone who has not yet read the New Yorker Article on “Breastfeeding the Microbiome” I highly recommend it! Recent results suggest that samples from breastfed babies co-express genes associated with immunological, metabolic, and biosynthetic activities than there were associated with formula-fed babies.

Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics (those meant to kill off a wide range of bacterial strains) will target both good and harmful bacteria. Avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics in late pregnancy, during childbirth, and the early postpartum period will encourage a healthy microbiome. Speak to your provider about what antibiotics may be used in your birth (antibiotics are used prophylactically in all cesarean births) and what you may do to encourage a healthy microbiome for your baby if they are born by cesarean.

 

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