Mothers facing C-sections look to vaginal ‘seeding’ to boost their babies’ health (click link to continue reading)

Early studies show that swabbing a mother’s vagina and transferring it to her baby’s mouth, eyes and skin may stimulate microbiome development similarly to babies born naturally – and protect it from health issues later in life.

Carolyn Weiss has a very peculiar birth plan.

An hour before Weiss, who is 37 and lives in Brooklyn, gives birth this January via C-section, she will insert a piece of saline-soaked gauze into her vagina. Right before the surgery, she’ll remove the gauze and place it in a sealed container. Seconds after the birth, Carolyn’s husband will take the gauze and swab it inside the baby’s mouth, around her eyes, and on her skin. The practice, called “seeding”, is beginning to attract some attention.

Why? First, a little science. The human body is home to an estimated 100tn microorganisms that form a complex ecosystem known as the microbiome. Scientists are just beginning to understand the tremendously vital role the microbiome plays in human health, but emerging research shows that these trillions of little guys (which collectively weigh about 2.5lb [1kg]) keep very busy.

They train our immune system, help us deal with infection and process our food. In fact, given the wide range of metabolic activities regulated by the microbiome, researchers are beginning to think of it as a newly recognized organ. While the intestines and colon have the densest population of microbes, distinct microbial populations live on every surface of our body: skin, mouth, vagina, lungs, bladder, etc.

To date, western medicine has often considered microbes foreign invaders, leading to the prevailing view that eliminating pathogens – through everything from antibiotics to hand sanitizers – will prevent disease. But that idea is under serious reconsideration as scientists begin to understand the level to which humans and their microbes share a mutually beneficial relationship, beginning at birth.

In the womb, a baby’s gut is most likely a sterile environment until the membranes rupture and the water breaks. At this point, researchers believe, the microbiome is first colonized by mom’s bacteria. It continues to be planted during the trip through the birth canal, where a child is coated with its mother’s microbes. Right after birth, a baby’s microbiome closely resembles the bacteria of the mom’s vagina.

But what happens when a baby is born via C-section, deprived of contact with its mother’s vaginal bacteria? Its bacterial community resembles the bacterial communities found on skin. And not just mom’s skin, but that of doctors, nurses, other patients in the hospital, the person who cleaned the operating room floor. This is a cause for concern, as a pioneer colonization by these types of bacteria may make a baby more susceptible to harmful pathogens and eventual illness.

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