How Seeding Protects Your Baby’s Microbiome
March 23rd, 2020
We do everything in our power to protect our children. When they are babies we obsess over tummy time, table corners and which car seat to buy. When you become a parent, keeping that precious little life healthy and safe becomes your reason for being. You would do anything to give your child a head start to a lifetime of good health. That’s why parents of C-section babies are choosing vaginal seeding, and it’s why I chose this procedure for my baby.
The Importance of Your Baby’s Microbiome
The good health we all want for our children starts with them having a healthy microbiome. Microbiomes are clusters of bacteria and other organisms found in and on our bodies. Our gut is home to tens of trillions of those organisms, including up to 1,000 species of bacteria. If the good species rein, the harmful ones will have less influence. And since nearly 60- 80% of your immune system lives within your gut, a disruption in the balance of bacteria could set you on the path to illness.
Scientists used to think the womb was sterile, however recent studies show one’s microbiome starts developing at conception. In a sense, it’s inherited. If a mom has a healthy microbiome, chances are her baby will too. The microbiome is further influenced at the time of birth. In a vaginal delivery, as your baby travels down the birth canal, she will swallow the beneficial bacteria that live there. Those bacteria will then colonize her gut, establish her microbiome and shape and lay the foundation of her immune system.
When babies are born via C-section, they miss out on being inoculated with the beneficial bacteria living in the birth canal. Their first exposure will instead be to other types of bacteria, such as those from the skin or mouth – from all your hugs and kisses. Missing out on those friendly bacteria from the birth canal can increase your child’s risk of having allergies, asthma and other infections in later in childhood.
Typically with every infection comes a round of antibiotics and every asthma attack a round of steroids. Antibiotics don’t only kill the bad bacteria; they can also wipe out even more of the good bacteria, setting the stage for Candida or yeast overgrowth and bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). I write about this extensively in my book The Autoimmune Solution. This is a typical history I hear from autoimmune patients: Born by C-section, lots of ear infections and lots of antibiotics, yeast infections, digestive issue and then years later a diagnosis of autoimmunity. It important to understand the state of your baby’s microbiome at birth plays an important role in her future health.
Over time, having more bad than good bacteria could eventually lead to a leaky gut. If your gut is leaky, food particles, toxins and infections can get through your intestinal lining and into your bloodstream where your immune system detects them as foreign invaders, attacking them and creating inflammation. Many of these “foreign invaders” floating in your bloodstream look very similar to your own body’s cells. Your immune system can get confused and accidentally attack your tissues. This process of mistaken identity is called molecular mimicry, and is one of the theories as to how autoimmunity happens.
What is Seeding?
Now you know how a C-section can set the stage for health challenges throughout your baby’s life. This is why I always recommend a vaginal delivery whenever possible, I do understand however, that there are times when a C-section is unavoidable. If you find yourself needing to have a C-section, you can plan ahead and take action to help your baby’s chances of developing healthy microflora.
My adopted baby, Elle needed to be delivered via C-section, and I knew this meant my daughter would miss out on the first very crucial step in establishing her gut microbiome. This is why I made the decision to “seed” Elle’s microbiome with bacteria from the birth canal.
Before the C-section took place, a sterile gauze was moistened with saline water. The gauze was then inserted into the birth mother’s vagina and left to colonize for one hour. It was then removed and put into a sterile cup. Within minutes of her delivery, the doctor used the gauze to wipe and “seeded” my daughter; starting at her eyes then mouth and worked her way down her entire body. The process took about 15 seconds.
This technique, called vaginal seeding, was developed by a professor from NYU. She used the procedure in a research study and found vaginal microbes can be partially restored at birth in C-section-delivered babies.
In fact, with vaginal seeding, it’s believed that a c-section baby can receive many of the same benefits as a baby who has been vaginally delivered, including a strengthened immune system, decreased risk of food allergies, and even a lower chance of developing obesity and type 1 diabetes.
Talking to Your Doctor About Seeding
A staggering number of infants are born via C-section in the US – one in three to be exact. Sometimes the surgery is planned, and other times, it’s a last minute decision due to complications. Even if you are expecting to give birth naturally, it is a good idea to be prepared for the possibility of a C-section. Researching vaginal seeding and talking about it with your doctor early on should be part of that preparation.
It’s very possible your doctor does not know about or fully understand vaginal seeding, so your first step might be to educate her. You can share this post or the published journal article on the topic. It is also very possible you will be faced with resistance from your doctor. This is because we don’t yet know the long-term effects of vaginal seeding, and members of the medical community have spoken out about its risks.
Let’s be clear on the risk – if a mother has an infection, such as Group B Strep or an STD, it can be passed on to an infant and cause health complications. However, this is no different than the risks of vaginal delivery. With proper testing for infections in mom, I believe vaginal seeding is a safe and incredibly promising technique. I would not have chosen it for my own child if I felt I was putting her at risk.
Just like every decision you will make about your baby – your pregnancy, delivery and how you choose to nourish and raise her, the choice is yours. You will face judgment and opposing views, but your responsibility is to make the best decision for your child. Alway be kind and respectful when you are standing your ground, even with your physician. By backing up your request with the evidence you may be taken more seriously. Remember, it’s your body, your baby, and you are calling the shots. Do your research – just like you will do when you select her car seat and her crib mattress. You’re reading this so you are on the right path!
We all want to have a perfect, natural delivery, successfully breastfeed and have no need for antibiotics. This simply isn’t the way things always go. Being prepared, educating yourself and knowing your options will help you make the right choices for your baby when you are faced with the unexpected. If a C-section is necessary, you now know you, too, can give your baby this gift of a healthy microbiome.
Other Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Baby’s Microbiome
If you had your baby by C-section before you knew about vaginal seeding, there are still many things you can do to help her develop a diverse and healthy microbiome. Start by taking care of your own body before and during your pregnancy. Remember your baby inherits your microbiome. Breastfeeding is incredibly important. Breast milk contains naturally-occurring probiotics to support the good bacteria. I will have an article coming out soon about what to do if you are unable to breastfeed.
Supplementing with an infant probiotic will also help your baby develop a healthy microbiome. I believe all babies (as well as adults) should supplement with a probiotic even if they were born vaginally and are breast fed however, if they were not, it’s particularly important.