Are my vaginal Bacteria that important for my baby’s health during delivery?

Microbirthing, also referred to as vaginal seeding, involves taking a swab from the mother’s vagina and wiping it over the newborn’s mouth, eyes, skin and face immediately after a caesarean section birth.  The purpose of this act is for the infant to come into contact with bacteria from the birth canal, which C-section babies are not exposed to.  As you all know, there is now a great amount of research dedicated to the field of microbiomes.  How and why are the bacteria we coexist with important to our health?

I have been approached by my patients in the recent past regarding vaginal seeding at the time of their cesarean.  These requests have mostly come from wonderful parents whose children have inexplicably been diagnosed with cerebral palsy or autism spectrum disorder despite the parents doing everything possible to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Researchers hope vaginal seeding will boost the newborn’s gut bacteria and possibly reduce the chances of developing allergies, irritable bowel syndrome or obesity (British Medical Journal, February 2016).

But much of the evidence points to the differences in the microbiome as linked with acquiring such diseases.

In theory, babies who are born vaginally are exposed to “good bacteria” as they make their way down the birth canal. Such bacteria also include certain components that give the baby his/her first meal. C-section infants are exposed to microbes, different from microbiota after a vaginal delivery.  My daughter was born via cesarean section due to her heart rate dropping during early labor.  Well, my daughter did suffer from numerous colds and has mild asthma but she was also born prematurely at 34 weeks of gestation.  Did the lack of vaginal microbial seeding impact her in a negative way?

According to a small February 2016 study, it may be possible to mimic the microbiome exposure of vaginal birth in babies born via C-section. Researchers looked at 18 infants, seven born vaginally and 11 via C-section. Of the 11 delivered by C-section, vaginal seeding was used on four babies. Four weeks after birth, the microbiomes of the four babies who received vaginal seeding more closely resembled those of the infants who were delivered vaginally than the microbiomes of the babies who were not exposed to their mothers’ vaginal flora. While these results suggest that vaginal seeding may make a difference in the makeup of the microbiome, more research is needed with a larger number of participants and for a longer duration to determine if there is any difference in health outcomes between the two groups. (Maria G Dominguez-Bello, et al. Nature Medicine 22, 250-253. 2016)

If parents wish to do this procedure independently, they should consult with their physician prior to learn about the potential benefits and risks. If you have already conducted vaginal seeding, it is crucial for you to inform your OBGYN, nurse and pediatrician.  Due to insufficient evidence, medical professionals should research more before encouraging the practice but I don’t see any reason why a patient’s wish should not be granted unless in an untreated “positive” GBS vaginal culture.

Let’s not forget other factors that affect a baby’s microbiome such as breastfeeding and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics which are more important to an infant’s gut bacteria than transferring vaginal fluid.

Disclaimer

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualifies health provider before making any health, medical or other decisions based upon the data contained herein. Information provided is for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professionals.

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Sean Daneshmand MD

Sean S. Daneshmand, M.D. is one of the busiest and most caring people you may ever meet. As the founder of the charity, Miracle Babies, as well as a full-time doctor, father, husband and business owner, it is hard to believe that he sleeps at all—or perhaps, he has found a portal to the 36-hour day. Dr. Daneshmand is a perinatologist (high-risk obstetrician) whose expertise includes obstetric and surgical management of invasive placentation, care of pregnancies following in-vitro fertilization, and management of maternal medical problems during pregnancy at the San Diego Perinatal Center. He was recognized by CNN, in their CNN Heroes segment, for his work with Miracle Babies and his dedication to his patients.