When you thought pregnancy couldn’t be weirder, meet ‘vaginal seeding’

by | August 22, 2018

When I first started reading about vaginal seeding, or micro birthing, I have to admit, I was completely grossed out. After all, the process is to place gauze in the pregnant person’s vagina prior to delivery, allow it to become soaked with vaginal fluid and to then wipe that gauze all over their newborn baby, including on their lips, face, torso, arms, legs, genitals, anus, and back. Without further knowledge of micro birthing, reading that information would tend to bring forth a lot of bizarre facial expressions in most people. However, after further research, I am not completely against this procedure and can definitely understand why some people choose it.

Life after Pregnancy

It is well known that our body is riddled with bacteria. Current studies show that the number of bacteria in one’s body could be up to three times that of human cells. Considering that the number of human cells is roughly 37.5 trillion, the possible number of bacterial cells is quite astounding. These bacteria are found on our skin, inside our mouth, nose, and our intestinal and genital tracts. The majority of bacteria colonizes our intestinal tract and makes up our gut flora.

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Bacteria are either commensal (good bacteria), pathogenic (bad bacteria), or opportunistic, which are generally good but can be bad if allowed to grow. The term good bacteria comes from their ability to neutralize toxins and inhibit the growth of yeast, and both pathogenic and opportunistic bacteria. Our gut flora also aids with digestion and absorption of nutrients, and promotes the health of the human cells in our digestive tract. Keeping these cells healthy and free from pathogens promotes our overall health and well-being. Many researchers believe that gut health, or lack thereof, has significant health implications that are not fully understood as of yet.

During a routine pregnancy and vaginal delivery, the baby passes through the birth canal and is therefore covered in the bacterial flora of the parent. Babies born via cesarean section, however, either only partially reach the birth canal or don’t reach it at all. As such, these babies are not exposed to the genital tract bacteria from the parent after pregnancy. Research has shown that the bacteria in the birth canal is present in the intestinal tract of babies born vaginally but not in babies that are born via c-section. Ipso facto, if one rubs a vaginal fluid soaked gauze all over a cesarean born baby, then that baby gets all those amazing bacteria right? Right?

It really is a thought-provoking theory. The downfall of this theory is that there is little research to prove that it works or that it is even beneficial. While research on gut flora is ongoing, only one study has been published on micro birthing effectiveness. This study performed micro birthing on four infants however it stopped following the babies after 30 days so no long-term data are available. However, researchers were able to show that those four infants had gut flora similar to that of the parental vaginal tract on day 30. However, a separate study showed that, by five months of age, the difference in babies gut flora between vaginal birth and c-section birth was negligible.

Strong support for vaginal seeding is generally based on the increased incidence of cesarean section coinciding with increases in allergies, asthma, and other immune disorders. Indeed, retrospective studies have shown increased health risks to children born via cesarean section versus vaginally. While correlation doesn’t equal causation, the results of the small vaginal seeding study do show that vaginal bacteria in a baby’s gut can be partially restored. However, research has not yet been able to determine if there are truly long-term benefits to this practice.

One can argue that those first five months of a long-term healthy gut building are significant, but without any other short and long-term studies, there is just not enough evidence to give medical professionals the confidence to recommend or encourage the use of micro birthing and it is currently discouraged by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. If this is something you intend to explore, be sure you are protecting your baby by being tested for communicable diseases and by being open and honest with your care team.

Are you in the middle of your pregnancy and considering vaginal seeding? we’d love to hear your thoughts below. 

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