What Is “Vaginal Seeding”? The New Trend Has Doctors Divided On Its Safety

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If you aren't yet sure what "vaginal seeding" is, you probably will be soon. It's the newest trend for mothers who deliver via C-section, though its effectiveness – and the safety risks involved – are questionable. Essentially, vaginal seeding is the process of taking swabs of fluid from a mother's vagina and inserting it into a baby's mouth, eyes, and skin. Those who believe in the practice argue that it provides the child with the good bacteria they may be missing out on by not passing through the vaginal canal at birth. However, others argue that it is ineffective at best, and can potentially expose babies to harmful bacteria, diseases or STDs at worst. With all of that considered, it's easy to conclude that "vaginal seeding" is officially becoming a trend, and doctors are divided on its safety.

On Tuesday, The Sun reported on the growing popularity of vaginal seeding, noting that experts say it could do more harm than good. They cited a group of doctors from the Danish Society of Obs and Gynae who argued that early skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and diet were more important for transferring good bacteria and supporting a baby's immune system. Vaginal seeding, on the other hand, comes with the potential danger of passing on diseases such as HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, group B streptococci, and E.coli.

The BBC also reported on Tuesday that Professor Peter Brocklehurt from the University of Birmingham is currently working on something called the Baby Biome Study, which is research aimed at discovering why babies delivered via Caesarean have higher rates of diseases such as asthma and allergies. He told the BBC: "The first time a baby's own immune system has to respond are to those first few bacteria," making a case for ensuring that first exposure is the most beneficial for the baby's health.

A study published in 2015 by the British Medical Journal found that babies delivered via C-section had higher rates of obesity, asthma and type 1 diabetes in adulthood. CBS reported:

In the U.S., the overall childhood asthma rate is 8.4 percent, which jumps to 9.5 percent among those born via C-section. The obesity rate among children delivered vaginally is 15.8 percent, versus 19.4 percent among kids born by C-section. Type 1 diabetes occurs in 2.13 of every 1,000 infants born from C-section, compared to 1.79 per 1,000 babies delivered vaginally.

However, it seems that vaginal seeding might not be the answer new moms are looking for. A study also published by the British Medical Journal in 2016 concluded that due to a lack of conclusive evidence for its benefit, vaginal seeding should be banned. The study's lead author, Dr. Aubrey Cunnington, told Fit Pregnancy:

Yes, in theory vaginal seeding could alter the risk of diseases in later life, but we are many steps away from having the evidence to prove this," Dr. Cunnington, a clinical senior lecturer in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London. There are some diseases like obesity, allergic and immune disorders which have been associated with C-section births... for example a common factor that puts mothers at higher risk of needing a C-section and their babies at higher risk of developing these diseases in later life.

In November of last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published a study in which it also agreed that vaginal seeding is not safe enough to make mainstream practice. "As the increase in the frequency of asthma, atopic disease, and immune disorders mirrors the increase in the rate of cesarean delivery, the theory of vaginal seeding is to allow for proper colonization of the fetal gut and, therefore, reduce the subsequent risk of asthma, atopic disease, and immune disorders," the study read. "At this time, vaginal seeding should not be performed outside the context of an institutional review board-approved research protocol until adequate data regarding the safety and benefit of the process become available."

Despite concerns, the aforementioned research shouldn't be a case for avoiding C-sections altogether. Vaginal births come with their own risk factors, and the choice to have a C-section is both a personal and sometimes a medical necessity. However, it's important to be aware of the risks. Without further research, it's difficult to ascertain whether transferring bacteria through vaginal seeding is even effective if not potentially harmful, especially for moms who opt for C-sections due to vaginally-transmitted diseases. Until more information becomes available, the wisest choice is to err on the side of caution.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.