May 8, 2023
Vaginal seeding or micro-birthing is currently being studied for its safety and efficacy in assisting with microbiome development in those born by caesarean section. The practice involves wiping newborn babies with bacteria rich vaginal fluids from their mothers in order to provide them with microbes they would not otherwise inherit.
Though it is not yet widely available, vaginal seeding may one day be a common procedure. This comes as increasing attention is being paid to the microbiome and the health outcomes associated with it.
If you are interested in learning more about vaginal seeding, we are going to cover it more thoroughly in the following sections:
First, lets go more in depth about what vaginal seeding is and what it accomplishes.
Vaginal seeding is the process of applying the vaginal fluids from the birth canal to a newborn, born by c-section. The procedure is used to recreate the natural microbial transfer that happens during vaginal childbirth. This microbial transfer is key in infant microbiome development.
The practice, though quite simple, may have incredible impacts on the health outcomes of those who receive it.
After the child is born, a swab is used to collect fluids from the mother's birth canal. That swab is then wiped on the baby’s face, mouth, eyes and skin. This wiping of fluids delivers the bacteria to the child, recreating the inaugural stage of microbial development.
Vaginal seeding is meant to recreate the first microbial exposures a child born vaginally would experience in life. The importance of this initial transfer has been noted in a number of studies on microbiome development.
The microbiome itself has been associated with a number of conditions, including Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Autism and Obesity. If effective, vaginal seeding might be key to the prevention of such conditions.
Children born by c-section may have an altered microbiome compared to their vaginally birthed counterparts. Obesity and asthma are seen more frequently in those born by c-section and this might be due to microbial imbalances in the body. This imbalance may also increase risk of developing other chronic illnesses.
Though cesarean sections can be life saving procedures and are often medically necessary, they are being performed at far higher rates than they should be. With increased focus on the microbiome as a source of certain health conditions, there may also be a rising awareness of birthing practices and how they affect microbiome development. That means only performing c-sections when necessary and where they are finding ways to assist in microbiome development.
Children born by c-section are more likely to suffer from asthma and more likely to be obese by the age of 5. Though they have not yet been sufficiently studied, it has been suggested that c-section may also be associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
The goal of vaginal seeding is to recreate the microbial transfer that occurs during vaginal childbirth. A child is born germ free; when they are born they start to collect the first bacteria that will form their microbiome. Birth gives a first large boost to the microbiome. Without it children miss out on a lot of potential microbial content. Vaginal seeding recreates this important event.
In a study out of New York University's Langone Medical Center, vaginal seeding was studied as a way to restore microbial development of those born by c-section. The researchers found that they were able to partly restore the development of those born by c-section through swabbing newborns with bacteria from their mothers.
The study has only had short-term follow up, looking directly at microbial development and diversity of the infants in the weeks and months following their births. Longer term follow up will be needed to see if the procedure reduced risk of conditions such as childhood obesity and asthma. Follow up will also be key to ensuring the long term safety and efficacy of the procedure.
Though vaginal seeding has the potential to aide with health outcomes of those born by c-section it has not been sufficiently studied. There still needs to be more research to ensure its long term safety and efficacy. Parents should not attempt to perform such a procedure on their own and doctors have been advised not to assist in the procedure.
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