If you are pregnant and need (or want) to have a C-section to birth your baby, it's natural to have questions about how being born via C-section might impact your baby's health. Some C-section moms are opting for a process called "vaginal seeding" to expose their baby to the healthy bacteria they would have encountered during vaginal birth. But according to medical professionals, there are things you need to know about vaginal seeding before you decide to give it a try.
So, what is vaginal seeding, anyway? According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), vaginal seeding is a process that follows a C-section delivery, when a mom's vagina is swabbed with gauze and that gauze is then rubbed on their baby's face, skin, and/or mouth. The same site explains that the theory behind vaginal seeding is that if you expose babies to the same bacteria they would have encountered during vaginal birth, you might reduce their future risk of conditions like asthma and allergies that have been linked to C-section deliveries. The problem with this theory, according to ACOG, is that while it's been established that C-section delivery might increase a baby's risk of these conditions, it's unknown if exposure to vaginal bacteria is the key to reducing these particular risks. We also don't know exactly how the way a baby is born is connected with these conditions.
A small study published in the journal Nature did show some differences in the gut bacteria of babies who were "seeded," but it only included four babies who underwent the process and researchers don't know if it will have any impact on their health. Even the study authors themselves make no claims about any health benefits of the process. Also, a review of research published in An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) shows that vaginal seeding can actually increase your baby's risk of developing certain types of infections. Unfortunately, this hasn't stopped new moms from asking their doctors to perform vaginal seeding, which ACOG warns is not worth the risk.
So, if you are one of the many moms considering vaginal seeding, here's what you need to consider:
Some People Think It's Beneficial
According to ACOG many moms-to-be are asking their doctors about vaginal seeding to reduce their baby's risk of developing asthma, allergies, or other similar health conditions in the future. The same site notes that there's no evidence that it actually works, though. In fact, one study published in 2017 showed that by 6-weeks-old, your baby's gut bacteria will have changed on its own, leading researchers to conclude that maybe how your baby is born doesn't impact their microbiome, and that vaginal seeding might not be necessary.
Doctors Don't Recommend It
According to ACOG, doctors don't recommend vaginal seeding because it hasn't been proven effective or safe. The organization's committee opinion on the subject recommends that doctors advise their patients against vaginal seeding, and fully explain the potential risks to a newborn.
Researchers Aren't Sure If It Works
According to a review of the available research published in BJOG, there's absolutely no evidence that vaginal seeding actually changes a baby's gut microbiome. Because the studies of vaginal seeding have been extremely small — involving only a few babies, and not showing changes in the long term — we have no idea if this practice does anything, let alone anything positive.
It Might Have Risks
As reported by the UK National Health Service, the procedure might actually come with risks, including causing bacterial infections like E. coli, Group B Strep, and sepsis, which can be deadly for your baby, especially if they are premature. A group of Danish doctors that reviewed the research around vaginal seeding said that at this point the risks of infection are higher than any potential benefit of the procedure.
Some New Moms Decide To Do It Themselves
Based on reports of potential benefits and the hype behind the trend, some moms decide to ask their health care providers to take swabs from their vagina and "seed" their newborn, or swab their face, eyes, and mouths, with the fluid. As CBC Radio reports, if their provider refuses to perform vaginal seeding, some moms even attempt to DIY in their hospital room and against medical advice.
It's Not Safe For Everyone To Try
According to ACOG moms should absolutely not do vaginal seeding, because it can be seriously dangerous. They warn that if you are Group B Strep positive (which impacts about 20 percent of moms), have a sexually transmitted infection like gonorrhea, human papilloma virus (HPV), or herpes, or have another vaginal infection, you should absolutely not do vaginal seeding. It's just too risky.
Even If It Works It Might Not Do Anything For Your Baby's Health
As CBC Radio reports, even if vaginal seeding can change your baby's gut microbiome, the link between that bacteria and your child's future health has not been determined. There's no conclusive link between the process and preventing conditions like asthma and allergies.
You Should Ask Your Provider What They Think
If you are having a planned C-section or have an emergency C-section on your baby's birthday, and are considering vaginal seeding, you should speak to your health care provider and learn about the potential risks. While it's scary to think about your child getting sick someday, an unknown benefit of this relatively new procedure might not be worth it.