Vaginal seeding is when parents (or medical professionals) swab a baby’s face and mouth with vaginal fluids after being born via Caesarian section. The trend started in Australia, is becoming popular in the United Kingdom (UK) and because it is free and DIY, might catch on in the United States as well. But is it safe?
The purpose of vaginal seeding
During a vaginal birth, babies are exposed to bacteria and microbes found in the vagina of the mother. There is some evidence that this transference can help a child’s immune system, helping to reduce rates of asthma, seasonal allergies and even obesity. During a C-section, this doesn’t happen. For those babies, microbiota from the skin are transferred to the baby. Some studies have shown that the gut bacteria in babies is different, depending on the method of birth. Gut bacteria is thought to influence the immune system.
To increase a baby’s exposure to the microbiota found in the vagina, a new trend, called vaginal seeding, has begun to crop up around the globe. A gauze swab is used to transfer vaginal fluid to a baby shortly after birth. The swab is wiped across a child’s face, eyes and mouth. When a mother knows she is going to give birth via C-section, she can collect vaginal fluid ahead of time, keeping it in a sealed container, and then apply it to her baby’s face moments after birth.
The benefits of vaginal seeding
An infant’s gut bacteria is thought to be populated during birth, starting when a woman’s water breaks and continuing through the birth process. A baby receives microbes from the lining of the vagina during birthing. Research has shown that a baby’s microbiome is similar to the microbes found in the vagina after a vaginal birth. When a C-section is performed, the microbiomes are similar to what is found on the mother’s skin.
Previous research has also found that children born via C-section are more prone to asthma, seasonal allergies, eczema, celiac disease and diabetes and scientists speculate this might be caused by the difference in microbiota. By spreading the vaginal fluid on the baby immediately after birth, parents hope to combat this, offering their child the benefits of vaginal birth
While some researchers are encouraged because babies who have undergone vaginal seeding show signs of having the microbiota from the vagina a month after birth, it is too soon to know if this will lead to a decrease in some of the health problems that are associated with C-section deliveries.
Potential risks of vaginal seeding
A new study, published in the February 2016 issue of BMJ, warns of potential dangers of vaginal seeding. According to the researchers, this practice could potentially expose babies to harmful bacteria and result in “serious infection.” The scientists point out that, in the UK, around 30 percent of pregnant women carry the B streptococcus bacteria, which is the most common cause for neonatal sepsis. Additionally, women could have bacteria from sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia, even though they are asymptomatic.These bacteria could cause health problems in newborns.
The researchers are urging caution and calling for more research to find out if the practice of vaginal seeding has real health benefits over the long-term and to explore the potential dangers of the practice.
If you are considering vaginal seeding, talk to your doctor about both the pros and cons to make the best decision for your baby.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.