Sometimes, birthing trends make us smile and feel good about the fact that mums are doing it for themselves and making the delivery room their labouring domain.
Other times, we’re left wondering who saw a baby born by caesarean section and thought: “God I want to rub some vaginal fluid on this newborn!”
Yep, we’re talking about vaginal seeding, the practice of taking swabs of vaginal fluid and rubbing it over the mouths and bodies of babies born by caesarean section.
As it turns out, studies have indicated (but not conclusively shown) that babies born by caesarean section don’t have the same gut bacteria of those born vaginally. As a result, babies born by caesarean section have what appears to be an increased risk of metabolic and immune diseases, compared to their vaginally birthed peers.
Dr Rachel Reed, from the University of the Sunshine Coast who is an independent midwife, explained that the microbiome of caesarean and vaginally birthed babies is different, and that during a vaginal birth: “the baby is colonised by maternal vaginal and faecal bacteria”. However, a baby born via caesarean section is “colonised by the bacteria in the hospital environment and maternal skin”.
So, the purpose of vaginal seeding is to pass along these important bacteria to babies born via caesarean section by smearing vaginal fluid all over their faces, mouths and bodies. The vaginal fluid is collected prior to birth by inserting a moist piece of gauze into the vagina, and leaving it for an hour. Then, once the baby is out, the gauze is swabbed liberally over the body.
We know what you’re thinking. WHAT?!
Research Behind Vaginal Seeding
Dr Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, Associate Professor in Medicine at New York University, has been leading a study that compares the bacteria of caesarean section babies and vaginally birthed babies in the first year of their life. She admits that her findings were never officially published, but that according to her study, vaginal seeding did have a positive effect on the diversity of bacteria in newborns born by caesarean.
“That’s logical because during labour, the baby is rubbing against the mucosa of the birth canal for a long time and bacteria start growing even before the baby is out,” Dr Dominguez-Bello said in speaking with a UK publication about her research. “Also, C-sections involve antibiotics, and we don’t know what the effect is of that gram of penicillin.”
Is It Accepted?
To put it simply, no. Vaginal seeding is not currently accepted by the medical community as having any positive effect on the bacteria of babies born via caesarean section, nor is it considered by those health professionals to be a safe practice to undertake on a newborn. While some parents are bucking the official advice from doctors, it is worth keeping in mind if you’re considering vaginally seeding your child.
In fact, published and widely-accepted studies note that babies born through planned caesareans are actually at a lower risk of potential harmful bacteria and virus transfer, and that vaginal seeding could potentially cause a devastating infection by transferring these straight to the baby.
The procedure is still experimental to say the least, and until more research is done we would probably recommend that you don’t wipe vaginal fluid all over your newborn. But hey, that’s just us.