Is Vaginal Seeding Safe?

The popularity of the vaginal seeding procedure has never been more popular, but exactly how safe is it? A recent discussion in the British Medical Journal casts a wary eye on the whole business.

Vaginal seeding refers to the procedure whereby a child born via a Cesarean section is swabbed shortly after birth with vaginal fluid. The intention is for the newborn to benefit from the vaginal microbiota.

Microbiota are the communities of microbes that colonize your body. These microbes actually outnumber your own cells 10 to 1. The key point here is that these complex communities are quite different from one body part to another. And characteristic differences in the microbiota are associated with various diseases. Studies have shown that early-life microbiota play a role in the developing immune system. Consequently, interest has been generated in the potential for manipulating our bodies' microbiota to promote health and treat disease.

The microbiota of the skin of a newborn baby born via Cesarean section most closely resembles that of the mother's skin. A vaginally-delivered baby, however, has skin microbiota that resembles the mother's vagina.

What's the difference? Nothing concrete, except that some studies have shown that babies delivered by Cesarean section have an increased risk of asthma, obesity, and autoimmune disease later in life. And we do know that our microbiota play a role in these conditions.

So, better safe than sorry, right? If the simple and inexpensive procedure of swabbing a newborn with Mom's vaginal fluid has even a slight chance of heading off some nasty ailments forty years later, why wouldn't you?

To start with, the vagina can carry pathogens that are neither screened for nor symptomatic in Mom, but can have serious effects on her child. For example, up to 30% of pregnant women are known to carry group B streptococcus, which is one of the most common causes of bacterial blood stream infections in babies. Other possible pathogens include the herpes simplex virus, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Chlamydia trachomatis. These last two can cause a form of neonatal conjunctivitis.

The authors of the British Medical Journal piece are of the opinion that “encouraging breastfeeding and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics may be much more important than worrying about transferring vaginal fluid on a swab." Given that we are many years away from the results of any kind of research that might conclude there is any concrete benefit, we'd had to agree.