One of the most on-trend birthing options available to families today is “vaginal seeding”.
Something I wish I knew about when I had my daughter via c-section.
While the term may sound like a bizarre form of new age gardening or the beginnings of a sexually transmitted disease (both of which may explain why a growing number of individuals are choosing to call it “microbirthing” instead), vaginal seeding is a relatively straight forward process.
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What is Vaginal Seeding?
Vaginal seeding is a process which is intended to introduce babies delivered by caesarean section to the bacteria present in their mother’s vagina.
Because babies delivered by c-section (which are as many as one in four in the UK and one in three in the United States) do not enter the world through the vaginal canal, they are not exposed to the same level of microbiota (specifically, lactobacillus) as a baby who has been born vaginally.
So why should you care?
Research has already shown that babies who make their grand entrance into this world via C-section delivery face a greater risk of developing a range of chronic immune disorders caused by defects in the immune system. Find that information here.
While the reasons behind this are not completely known, one correlating factor is that babies delivered by C-section have a different bowel composition than those who are born vaginally.
Many in the medical community believe that C-section babies are more prone to health conditions such as allergies, asthma, obesity and type 1 diabetes because they lack the same amount of microbiota as their vaginally-born brethren.
This is why some parents are now attempting to increase their C-section delivered baby’s exposure to vaginal bacteria through vaginal seeding.
What Exactly Is The Process of Vaginal Seeding?
A strip of gauze is soaked in saline and is then inserted into the mother’s vagina approximately one hour before the baby’s planned birth.
After baby is born, the strip is then removed and the mother’s “je ne sais quoi” (a.k.a. vaginal juice) is rubbed all over the baby’s face, mouth, skin and anus a minute or two afterwards.
The procedure takes a grand total of fifteen seconds and can be performed by the parent of the child or by a medical professional.
The belief behind this practice is that by exposing the baby to his mother’s vaginal bacteria, the baby will then be able to benefit from their mother’s precious immune boosting bacteria.
This practice gained traction after a study from Puerto Rico was published in Natural Medicine in early February 2016.
This video below is a movie trailer digging into the MicroBirth.
This feature-length documentary looking at birth through the lens of a microscope:
A Look Into The Study
The study, conducted by Dr. Dominguez-Bello, involved 18 babies who were born at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan where she worked (the small sample size possibly suggests that the whole “vaginal seeding” thing was initially a hard sell).
Seven of the babies were born vaginally while eleven were delivered by elective C-section.
Four of the eleven were swabbed with the mother’s vaginal microbes. Seven of the babies were not.
Within two minutes after the birth of the babies, they were placed under a neonatal lamp and had their limbs, face, arms, chest, legs, back, genitals and anal region swabbed with the damp gauze.
Dominguez-Bellow and her colleges then tracked the microbial composition for a month, taking more than 1,500 skin, oral and anal samples from the newborns.
The Results: the infants who underwent the vaginal seeding process had a level of microbes on the skin which closely resembled vaginally delivered babies, especially after the first week of life.
The gut bacteria in both groups, however, continued to be less abundant than those found in vaginally delivered babies.
To make things even more confusing, anal samples from the swabbed group contained the highest abundance of bacteria which is typically found in the mouth.
Not All Bacteria Is Good Bacteria
We all want what is best for our children, and being able to potentially improve the health outcomes of our babies is priority number one for most parents.
But while there may be “good” bacteria in a mother’s “hoo-haa”, there can also be bad bacteria – bacteria which can cause a lot more harm than good.
While mothers in some countries (like the United Kingdom) do not test for the bacteria group B streptococcus, countries like the United States and Canada do.
This is because some babies who have been exposed to this bacteria group have suffered from infections which have proven fatal.
The obvious is that mums who test positive for “strep B” should not proceed with vaginal seeding.
But there is something else to consider: this type of bacteria is something which comes and goes in all women.
According to Group B Strep International, you may test negative for strep B today, but at the time of delivery, it may be present in your body.
And let’s not forget the other questionable things which you baby may be exposed to via a mother’s vaginal fluid, such as:
- Herpes Simplex Virus
What’s A Mom To Do?
The long term health benefits (or detriments) to vaginal seeding remains unclear.
But there were two recommendations which Dominguez-Bello made when she concluded her study.
a) Provide their infant with breastmilk after birth; and
b) Provide skin-to-skin contact
Once your baby is born, your body is hard at work producing a load of nutrient dense colostrum.
Unlike mature milk which very much resembles the milk we pour in our breakfast cereal, colostrum is thicker and pale yellow in color.
It is also loaded with antibodies (which is why many parents refer to it as “baby’s first immunization”) and it is higher in minerals, protein, nitrogen, white blood cells and certain antibodies than mature milk.
Your body will not produce nearly as much colostrum as it will produce mature milk, but as those in the medical community agree, “a little goes a long way”.
Click the image below for a great article of how to get your body right knowing that you will be having a c-section to seed:
The jury is still out on whether or not vaginal seeding is effective both in the short term and long term, and parents may choose to partake in the procedure at their own risk.
But one thing which research still supports is that breastmilk and plenty of cuddles are what our babies need the most.