TREND: Seeding Newborns

Cesarean births have long been the subject of debate and concern, from the potential complications in the mother to the long-term health outcomes of the child. The C-section birth can’t always be avoided, with medical emergencies often making such deliveries life-or-death necessities in many cases. However, the data points to decreased health outcomes for Cesarean babies, who are more likely to have respiratory complications in those critical first days. Later on in life, they are more at risk of developing asthma and Type 1 diabetes, and are more likely to suffer from obesity than vaginal births [1].

The big question for parents, doctors and researchers is ‘why?’ In truth, it may be a long time before we can confidently answer this question. In the meantime, a trend is emerging. It is established on the idea that the vaginal birth exposes the infant to more than 300 types of bacteria, and this has considerable impacts on the gut microbiome and immunity.
Obviously, such bacterial exposure is impossible with a C-section birth. How then does one add back what the baby is missing out on? It’s called ‘seeding’ and it involves swabbing the newborn with vaginal fluid from the mother. Participants in the practice leave a swab inside the mother, anywhere from a minute to an hour, and then swab it over the infant’s skin, and inside its mouth and nose.

This does seem to make sense. If the vaginal birth process is so essential to the way an infant’s respiratory system adjusts to life on the outside, then surely the experience of the bacteria could also help start the immune system on the right foot.

However, there is no solid data on its benefits as yet, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping some midwives and new mums from taking part in the practice anyway [2]:

“Dr. Maria Gloria Domingues-Bello, an associate professor at New York University’s School of Medicine, is leading a study comparing the microbiomes of 17 Puerto Rican babies, six born naturally and eleven born via C-section, four of whom were seeded. The babies’ microbiomes were monitored regularly for a year after birth. Although the results are yet to be published, Doimguez-Bello says the preliminary evidences shows great promise. “What we’ve found is that if you expose a baby born via C-section to vaginal fluid, you can partially restore the microbes is misses out on by not coming through the birth canal” Dominguez-Bello says.”

She concedes that seeding can’t restore the microbes 100%, and realises that a larger study is required before any strong claims can be made, but appears to be a vocal advocate of seeding newborns.

History continually shows us that trends can take off before research has time to back them up. This one is no exception. In the search for more natural birth experiences, even in the face of medical emergencies such as the C-section, seeding is already occurring. Some mothers involve their health provider, and others do so more covertly, all while conservative scientists advise that prospective parents wait until the research offers a little more information as to the practice. The jury is well and truly out on this one.

However, there is a feature length documentary circulating and it is passionately trying to increase awareness and take-up of the practice. The producers of “Microbirth” had this to say:
“The purpose of the documentary is to raise public awareness of the importance of seeding the baby’s microbiome at birth with the mother’s own bacteria – this bacteria helps train the immune system to recognize what is “friend” and what is “foe”. We believe “seeding of the baby’s microbiome” should be on every birth plan – for even if vaginal birth isn’t possible, immediate skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding can still help to provide bacteria crucial to the development of the baby’s immune system. In the scientists’ view, if we can get the seeding of the baby’s microbiome right at birth, this could make a massive difference to the baby’s health for the rest of its life [3].
With C-section births now making up approximately one-in-three births, it’s an interesting consideration to make. And, it’s a trend that is occurring and it’s one that health practitioners are best to know about!

 

References:

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/c-section-cesarean-births-child-health-problems-asthma-obesity-diabetes/
[2] Body and Soul: “Seeding: The New Birth Trend That’s All About Bacteria.
[3] http://www.healthygutbugs.com/babys-microbiome-expectant-mothers-care/

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