What Is ‘Vaginal Seeding’ and Is It Safe?

Interest in “vaginal seeding” is growing, but some doctors say there’s not enough evidence that it does any good. They also express concerns about the potential risks.

In an editorial in the BMJ, doctors from London and Australia discuss the potential pros and cons of vaginal seeding, a practice also known as “microbirthing”.

What is vaginal seedingÖand why are parents doing it?

According to the BMJ editorial, studies show that Caesarean deliveries are associated with a slight increase in the risk of obesity, asthma, and autoimmune diseases when compared vaginal births. This may be because babies who pass through the birth canal are exposed to bacteria that colonize the gut, protecting them from some health risks.

Vaginal seeding is done immediately following a Caesarean birth. The procedure itself is fairly quick and simple. A partner or member of the medical staff takes a swab from the mother’s vagina and wipes it over the newborn’s mouth, eyes, face, and skin.

The theory is that this will allow a baby born by Caesarean section to have contact with helpful bacteria from the mother’s birth canal. This would increase gut bacteria and, hopefully, lower the risk of certain health problems.

The paper’s authors note that although there’s mounting evidence that human microbiota can be manipulated to improve health, there’s not enough evidence to conclude that vaginal seeding is helpful to infants. At least not yet.

Dr. Ira Jaffe, board certified OB/GYN in New York City, told Care2 that NYU is currently engaged in researching how seeding may provide significant health benefits for newborns. “It is not a radical concept to try to understand how nature provides for optimal development for newborns during childbirth and via prolonged skin-to-skin contact in the immediate neonatal period.”

Is Vaginal Seeding Safe?

“The risks are the same as for a baby born naturally,” said Dr. Jaffe. “If the mother is a genital colonizer of group B streptococcus†or has an active genital herpes outbreak, seeding should be avoided.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25 percent of pregnant women carry group B strep in the rectum or vagina. They don’t always have symptoms. In the United States, B strep is the top cause of meningitis and sepsis in the first week of life.

Genital herpes can be passed on to your baby during vaginal delivery. The CDC states that a Caesarean delivery may be recommended if you’re having an active outbreak when you go into labor.

Dr. Michael Cackovic, an OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Care 2, “What we basically have is a practice based on biological plausibility without any evidence for benefit.” He notes that practices based only on biological plausibility have caused harm in the past, such as the use of estrogen in menopausal women.

“In obstetrics, we screen the vaginas and cervices of pregnant women to check for harmful bacteria and vaginal seeding could very well result in unintended neonatal exposures,” said Dr. Cackovic. In addition to B strep and herpes simplex virus, they screen for Chlamydia trachomatis, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

“Prudent policy would be to avoid until benefit is proven beyond risk,” he cautioned.

Dr. Aubrey Cunnington of the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London is the lead author of the BMJ editorial. “Demand for this process has increased among women attending hospitals in the UK, but this has outstripped professional awareness and guidance,” he said in a statement.

Referring to the potential risk of transferring harmful bacteria, Dr. Cunnington advises parents to inform doctors if they’ve performed the procedure. If a baby born by Caesarean section gets sick, doctors need to know they were exposed to the same possibility of infections as a baby born vaginally.

The BMJ editorial suggests that breastfeeding and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics can also affect the developing microbiota.

Related Reading
Breastfeeding Prevents Death, Improves Health, and Boosts Economies
7 Tips to Get Your Toddler to Nap
5 Signs of an Over-Scheduled Child (and What to do About it)

Photo: Mishatc/iStock/Thinkstock

68 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn1 years ago

i think it would work

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 1 years ago

Whatever works!

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Veronica Danie
.1 years ago

Thanks!

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

Feather W made the comment "seems like breastfeeding would cover this....but then caesarean mothers can´t breastfeed..." I would agree with the first part, however, women can and do breastfeed after a Caesarean. Personally, I find it at the same level as the new fad of fecal transplanting.

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JD She
JD She1 years ago

Noted.

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Ivana D.
Ivana D1 years ago

Tyfs

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Ivana D.
Ivana D1 years ago

Tyfs

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Pamela Dubsky
Pamela Dubsky1 years ago

Yes, I think it should be the parents decision!

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