By Kathy McCoy, University of Calgary
Should every baby born by Caesarean section (Caesarean section) be given a smear of microbes on the mouth, nose or skin from the mother‘s vagina shortly after birth?
This controversial pregnancy trend is known as “vaginal seeding” or “microbirthing”. The goal is to make these babies more immune to diseases.
The reason for this practice is that babies born cesarean are at increased risk of developing health problems later in life, including allergies and asthma.
This may be because cesarean babies are not exposed to the mother‘s microbes, which, unlike vaginal delivery, can help positively affect their fragile immune system.
I am an immunologist studying the gut microbiome and scientific director of the International Microbiome Center at the University of Calgary, where we study the effects of the trillions of bacteria in the human body that make up our microbiome on chronic diseases.
Vaginal seeding has advantages and disadvantages. The pro is that it can provide the baby with microbes from the mother that it would have been exposed to naturally born. The downside is that it could sow the baby with potentially pathogenic or harmful bacteria.
We need a lot more research before we accept vaginal seeding. Since we do not know whether a vaginal smear could carry a pathogen, we would have to check the mother’s microbiome in a controlled manner.
Mother and child share a microbial bond
The gut microbiome consists of microbes, which include bacteria, fungi and viruses. The microbiome has many functions, including helping us to digest our food, protect ourselves from diseases and regulate the immune function.
We know that a baby’s first 1000 days are critical to its development and that a baby’s microbiota can be greatly affected by many factors, including whether the birth is vaginal or cesarean.
This is because the mother and child form a microbial bond that may exist before birth. An important step in developing this bond occurs during childbirth when the baby’s skin, nose and mouth are colonized with microorganisms from the mother’s body.
This microbial connection can affect child development and affect the delicate balance between health and illness, although it has not been proven that differences in birth affect much later in life.
Cesarean section Babies lack friendly bacteria
A recent study of the newborn microbiome found evidence that babies born through the vaginal canal have different microbes than newborns who are born with a caesarean section. This could explain why some children have a less strong immune system than others.
Cesarean section Babies in the study lacked strains of (friendly) bacteria that were typically found in healthy people. They have been found to have ingested harmful microbes that are typically found in hospitals.
The pioneer bacteria that enter a newborn first should come from the mother’s gut and vagina and not from the skin or the hospital environment, especially since the bacteria acquired in the hospital can be an undesirable source of antimicrobial resistance.
Antibiotic-resistant infections can destroy our way of life: new report
An alarming report on antibiotic resistance in Canada recently warned that the share of therapy-resistant bacterial infections could increase from 26 percent in 2018 to 40 percent in 2050, costing Canada 396,000 lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.
However, there are many factors to consider and the change in initial microbial exposure is only a difference between natural birth and caesarean section. There is a potential risk that infections such as group B streptococci, HIV, and chlamydia may be transmitted through vaginal seeding.
It is also clear that not every baby born via caesarean section will later develop a disease such as an allergy or asthma.
Instead, consider breastfeeding
Canada had 104,349 Caesarean sections between 2017 and 18, compared to more than 103,000 in the previous year. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the caesarean section tops the list of inpatient surgeries, even though birth rates are falling.
There are no statistics to show the extent of vaginal sowing in Canada, although this practice has been known in North America for several years.
In 2017, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published guidelines in the United States that warn against practice until further investigation.
I would also advise against vaginal sowing – except in the research environment – until we know more about the long-term effects.
If you want to boost your baby’s microbiome, consider breastfeeding instead.
The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa is organizing a traveling exhibition entitled “Me & My Microbes: The Zoo Inside You” from December 20, 2019 to March 29, 2020.
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Kathy McCoy, professor at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
This article was republished in The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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