What Is Seeding After Birth?

Reviewed on 6/11/2021
vaginal seeding after birth
Can vaginal seeding after a C-section really boost your baby’s immune health?

Seeding after birth, or vaginal seeding, is a birthing trend that involves swabbing the mother’s vaginal discharge on babies born via C-section. It’s a controversial practice, and most experts are against it.

Why is vaginal seeding done after a C-section?

Vaginal seeding began after a team of researchers discovered that the microbiome composition of babies born by cesarean delivery was significantly different from babies born by vaginal delivery.

Studies have shown that babies born by C-section are more likely to have allergies, hay fever, and asthma. About 60% of children are born through cesarean delivery in developed countries, and these countries also have increasing numbers of chronic and autoimmune diseases. Gut microbiota and immunity are believed to play a key role in the development of these diseases.

This has led to speculation that C-section births may be hampering the natural process of a baby acquiring and developing immunity from the good bacteria in their mother’s vaginal secretions.

How is vaginal seeding done?

Doctors place swabs inside the vagina of the mother just before delivery. After the C-section is performed and the baby is born, the swabs are rubbed in the baby’s mouth, nose, and skin

The goal is to transfer good microbes from the mother’s vagina to the baby. These microbes are supposed to help the baby build a healthy gut microbiome and strengthen the baby’s immunity.

Is vaginal seeding really beneficial?

It’s premature to say whether vaginal seeding really benefits babies. 

Only one study has demonstrated the positive effect of vaginal seeding. The study was conducted on 15 babies born by cesarean delivery and reported that 4 of the babies who were swabbed with maternal vaginal fluids before their delivery had a microbiome similar to those born by vaginal delivery.

However, this is a small study, so its data cannot be used to recommend the practice of vaginal seeding. More studies are required to determine whether this practice is truly effective or not.

What are the risks of vaginal seeding?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not recommend the practice of vaginal seeding, and in fact, advises against it.

The procedure can expose babies to a potentially life-threatening infection. If the mother has a vaginal infection such as group B streptococcus, herpes, chlamydia, or gonorrhea, she could pass it to her baby. This could lead to infections such as neonatal sepsis, which is a serious blood infection. 

Although rare, the risk is not worth the supposed benefits of vaginal seeding, especially when these benefits have yet to be scientifically proven. 

ACOG recommends vaginal seeding only under one of two conditions:

  1. The mother is part of a clinical trial, where she will be under medical supervision.
  2. The mother has been made aware of all the risks involved in the practice. After understanding them thoroughly, she can decide whether to go ahead with the practice.

Is there a safer way to boost your baby’s microbiome?

ACOG suggests breastfeeding as a safer and the most effective way to boost your baby’s microbiome. This is because your baby receives 30% of their gut’s beneficial bacteria from your breast milk

Cuddling can also help strengthen your baby’s immunity, because the skin around your breasts is a source of good bacteria for your baby.

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References
Vaginal Seeding. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2017/11/vaginal-seeding

Some Moms Want to Give Their C-Section Babies a ‘Bacterial Baptism,’ But Experts Advise Caution. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-some-moms-are-giving-their-c-section-babies-a-bacterial-baptism-and-why-experts-urge-caution/

Shin H, Pei Z, Martinez KA 2nd, et al. The first microbial environment of infants born by C-section: the operating room microbes [published correction appears in Microbiome. 2016;4:4]. Microbiome. 2015;3:59.

Dominguez-Bello MG, De Jesus-Laboy KM, Shen N, et al. Partial restoration of the microbiota of cesarean-born infants via vaginal microbial transfer. Nat Med. 2016 Mar;22(3):250-253.

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