It is commonly said that a woman becomes a mother the moment she finds out that she is pregnant while a man becomes a father once they hold their child for the first time. Motherly instincts kick in almost immediately for many expectant mothers and the lifelong process of wanting to protect your child from harm begins.
With this motherly instinct in mind, it comes as no surprise that a mom-to-be would do almost anything to ensure her baby the healthiest possible future. It may sound strange, however, that some Australian mother’s are opting to wipe their C-section babies down with gauze soaked in their vaginal fluids. Even more surprising may be that they are doing this to promote a healthier immune system for their babies.
Several studies have shown that the gut bacteria of babies born through C-section differ from the gut bacteria of babies born vaginally, which can affect their developing immune system. Enter seeding, a controversial process that aims to provide C-section babies with the same benefits as those born vaginally.
Although currently uncommon in America, it is worth educating yourself about, especially if you are planning on having a C-section, or preparing for the possibility of one. Since seeding is a relatively new concept, there is a lot of confusion about the process and whether it is a healthy alternative to a natural birth. This article will serve to answer all of the questions you may have about seeding.
7 What is Seeding?
Seeding is the process of coating a baby delivered by C-section with their mother’s vaginal fluids. Although it may seem a bit odd, the actual process of seeding at birth is simple, with only five steps to follow.
The Seeding Technique
- Soak a piece of gauze in a sterile saline solution
- Fold up the gauze like a tampon and insert into the mother’s vagina
- Leave the gauze in for one hour
- Remove the gauze prior to surgery and store it in a sterile container
- Apply the swab to the baby’s face, mouth, and body immediately after delivery
When babies are born naturally, they are exposed to around 300 different bacteria, which help develop their immune system and provides a greater ability to defend against illness and disease. Babies born through caesareans on the other hand, have arguably less efficient immune systems, with higher instances of certain illnesses, such as allergies and asthma. The aim of providing these vaginal fluids to the baby immediately after birth is to expose them to all of the healthy bacteria that are present in the mother’s birth canal. This exposure is intended to provide a C-section baby with an improved immune system similar to that of a baby born vaginally.
6 Why is Bacteria So Important to My Baby’s Immune System?
The human body is home to acomplex ecosystem known as the microbiome, which is made up of millions of microorganisms. These microorganisms can also be thought of as a collection of healthy bacteria that keep our bodies functioning. They help to train our bodies to fight off infections and process our food.
It is important that a baby’s microbiome is colonized in a natural way, since it kick starts the creation of their immune system. Given that the vagina is a part of the microbiome and is comprised of the same healthy bacteria, passing through the birth canal is the healthiest way for a baby to enter the world. As a baby is pushed through the birth canal they are coated in their mother’s vaginal fluid and their immune system becomes colonized by their mother’s bacteria. Consequently, immediately following a vaginal birth, a baby's microbiome will look very similar to that of the mother’s.
Since C-section babies do not pass through the birth canal they are deprived of this exposure. Instead of being colonized by their mother’s bacteria, the microbiome becomes colonized by their initial surroundings, which typically involve human skin. If the only skin the baby was in contact with was their mother’s this may not be such a concern.
However, they are not only picking up the bacteria from their mother’s skin, but also that of nurses, and doctors. A baby that is colonized by their external environment rather than their mother’s microbiome, will not have an optimal immune system and as a result, will be more susceptible to harmful pathogens and illness.
5 What’s the Difference Between Good and Bad Bacteria?
Some studies have found that the microbiomeof C-section babies had lower levels and fewer types of beneficial bacteria compared to vaginally delivered babies. An additional study found that this lowered microbial diversity stays with the baby for the first two years of its life.
The first two years of every baby’s life are crucial, which is why researchers have suggested there may be a link between birth method and the development of a baby’s immune system. This theory is even more compelling when you consider the predisposition C-section babies have to allergies, asthma and obesity in comparison to vaginally delivered babies.
This difference in immune systems between C-section and vaginally delivered babies can be accredited to the bacteria present in each birth method. The bacteria that your baby is exposed to during a vaginal birth are friendly bacteria such asLactobacillus and Prevotella, which aid in the digestion of sugars and carbohydrates in our gut.
Conversely, the bacteria a C-section baby is exposed to once outside the womb are predominantly Staphylococci (Staph infections) and C difficile (digestive infections). Staph infections are present in most hospitals and C difficile is found in individuals given antibiotics, which mothers are given prior to C-section. This immediate contact with antibiotics and unhealthy bacteria can affect a baby’s immune system for up to two years, which is why seeding has evolved as a possible solution.
Seeding attempts to mimic the vaginal birth process by coating the baby’s mouth, face and body in the same fluids (and bacteria) present in the birth canal. The aim is not only to absorb all the positive benefits of the healthy bacteria, but also to counteract the dangerous bacteria that babies are exposed to immediately following a C-section.
Although some Australian mothers have seeded their babies and have had generally positive experiences, the benefits have yet to be scientifically proven.
4 What are the Risks?
Given all of the information about good and bad bacteria above, seeding at birth may seem like a logical and safe alternative to a natural birth. You must keep in mind though, that there are potential risks that need to be taken into account before implementing seeding into your birth plan. The main danger stems from the risk of infection to the baby, both from the gauze and the mother’s fluids.
The vagina and rectum can swell significantly during pregnancy, which can position the two orifices extremely close together. This closeness means that there is a risk that the gauze used to collect the vaginal fluid can become contaminated with fecal matter while it is either inserted or removed.
There is also a potential risk of infection to the baby from vaginal pathogens present in the fluids. Although screening tests exist to test for certain pathogens such as herpes and HIV, they are not 100% accurate. Additionally, pregnant women can be prone to yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Transferring the bacteria associated with a yeast infection can create difficulty with breastfeeding and cause thrush in your baby.
At this time there is not enough research on the process to determine either definitive benefits or dangers of seeding at birth. It is important to acknowledge that infection is one of the top ten causes of death in the first month of an infant’s life. With this in mind it may be favorable to wait until more studies have been conducted before seeding your baby.
3 Are There Ways I Can Avoid Having a C-section?
Since seeding has yet to be proven either 100% beneficial or safe, you may want to avoid it altogether. One way you can be certain to avoid the process is through encouraging your own natural birth and avoiding the chance of C-section altogether. Here are a few things you can do to promote a natural birth:
- Avoid excessive weight gain while pregnant. Every woman is different and will need to gain a different amount of weight based on her body. Talk to your doctor and determine what your healthy weight gain will be and try to stay within it to avoid a C-section.
- Avoid inducing, unless it is medically necessary. Some studies have shown that first-time mother’s that induce can double their chances of having a C-section.
- Avoid an early epidural. Some studies have shown that getting an epidural early in labor can increase a first-time mother’s chances of having a C-section. When an early epidural is performed it can make it difficult for the baby to change positions, which can increase the risk of doctor intervention.
Although many healthy babies have been delivered via C-section, following these tips could ensure that your baby comes into the world in the most natural, safe and beneficial way possible.
2 Are There Safer Alternatives?
If avoiding a C-section is out of reach for you and your pregnancy, it is still possible to provide your baby with an improved immune system. There are a number of ways that the microbiome of caesarean babies can be improved aside from seeding (these techniques can also be used by vaginally born babies to boost immunity).
- Immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby - this helps develop the baby’s digestive system.
- Avoid washing your newborn baby for as long as possible after birth. Babies are born covered in vernix caseosa, a waxy coating that acts as a natural protection against infection. Postponing your baby’s first bath for eight to twenty-four hours after birth can be incredibly beneficial to your baby’s immune system.
- Consistent and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Breast milk provides your baby with unbeatable amounts of nutrition. It also contains protective factors that help prevent disease and aid in the development of a healthy immune system.
Each one of these alternatives to boosting your baby’s immune system have one very important thing in common, you. No matter which method you choose, keep in mind that contact between mother and baby has been and always will be, one of the most beneficial things you can do for your baby.
1 Do Doctor’s Support Seeding at Birth?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology haven’t made any statements on the practice of seeding at birth. Many doctors in America will be unfamiliar with this technique, so if you decide to include seeding in your birth plan you may have to educate them on the matter. At this time, most hospitals in America probably won’t endorse the process and will not have protocols in place for this type of bacterial transfer between mother and baby. Due to these factors, it is possible that your doctor may be uncomfortable performing this process. If you choose to include seeding your baby as part of your C-section birth plan and your current doctor will not assist you, find an alternate doctor, rather than performing it yourself. Seeding is an emerging practice, and although the benefits appear promising, much more research needs to be done before the practice becomes widely accepted.
To seed or not to seed seems to be the question, but at the end of the day, it is up to you to decide how you want your baby to enter the world. Whichever birth plan you choose, make sure to do your research and consult a physician to ensure the safety of your baby and her future health.