A newborn child is one of the most vulnerable living beings in the world. Unlike animals in the wild that have more extended gestation periods and better-developed offspring, the human newborn is fragile and still not ready for a world outside the womb. Perhaps the first and most significant manifestation of this comes when an infant catches a cold or has a bout of diarrhea.
While vaccines exist, and are much needed to prevent dangerous illnesses from a community perspective, they offer passive immunity. Active immunity, i.e. the kind obtained by developing it ourselves, lasts much longer. The birth canal is a rich source of beneficial microbes that have a role to play in building our immunity. Very recently, research has shown that our gut flora influences many things in our life, including our propensity to be obese, or the level of our immune system’s function.
Infants born through a vaginal delivery are already seeded— in other words, they are exposed to the flora in the vaginal canal that helps them populate their own body flora. However, children born through a Caesarean section delivery can also gain the same benefits, albeit differently.
The Basics Of Vaginal Seeding
Once the infant is born, a cotton swab is used to collect flora from the birth track and is applied all over the newborn. There is no specific effort made to introduce the swab to the mucus membranes. However, the procedure is not standardized and differs from one doctor to another.
As a result of being introduced to relatively harmless bacteria, the young infant’s body begins training for future, predatory bacteria. It starts to recognize foreign bodies as safe or dangerous and mounts a response accordingly.
Is Vaginal Seeding Recommended?
Medical opinion on the topic is highly divided. Doctors who propose the practice say that infants born through a C-section have an invaluable opportunity in vaginal seeding to experience the same benefits as infants born through vaginal delivery. Those who oppose the practice point to mothers with vaginal yeast infections and other communicable diseases. In infants born vaginally to such mothers, the incidence of oral thrush and feeding difficulties is quite high. Guillian-Barre Syndrome or GBS is another illness that damages the nerve cells and can quickly be passed on from mother to child through this practice. However, most women are screened for GBS before opting for vaginal seeding, or even a vaginal birth.
Vaginal seeding is a relatively new concept in India. You may have to discuss the details with your doctor to understand their concerns and limitations before choosing to go ahead with this practice.
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- Krajmalnik-Brown R, et al “Effects of gut microbes on nutrient absorption and energy regulation.” Nutr Clin Pract. 2012 Apr; 27(2): 201–214.
- Cunnington, Aubrey J., Kathleen Sim, Aniko Deierl, J. Simon Kroll, Eimear Brannigan, and Jonathan Darby. ““Vaginal seeding” of infants born by caesarean section.” (BMJ2016; 352).
- Hesseltine, H. C., I. C. Borts, and E. D. Plass. “Pathogenicity of the monilia (Castellani), vaginitis and oral thrush.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology27, no. 1 (1934): 112-116.