Health experts have warned against a controversial practice becoming more popular with newborns.
NEW mothers have been warned against a controversial trend towards “vaginal seeding” for newborn babies, saying there are no clear health benefits but may be risks.
Imperial College London’s senior lecturer Aubrey Cunnington said the practice — also known as microbirthing — is an attempt to expose ceasarian born babies to the same bacteria others are exposed to in the birth canal that is thought to provide health benefits later in life.
“Babies born by cesarean sections miss out on some of this natural goodness. Instead, they are mainly colonised by skin microbes, a very different set of species,” he said.
“This difference in microbiota is said to be still measurable months and possibly even years after birth. This is where the idea of ‘vaginal seeding’ comes into play, to try and correct that balance and restore some of the good bacteria to the baby.”
The practice involves taking a swab from the mother’s vagina and rubbing it over the baby’s mouth, face and skin after birth in the hope of boosting their gut bacteria and reducing the risk of allergies or obesity.
Mr Cunnington said reports of the potential benefits have led to increased demand for the practice at a pace that has outstripped professional guidance on it.
His recent report published in The British Medical Journal said that while changing the composition of microbiota can prevent disease, it does not yet show that vaginal seeding is beneficial and it can lead to severe infections in newborns — particularly where the mother has not been screened for disease.
“Many countries (including the United Kingdom and Australia) do not screen all women for these pathogens in pregnancy, and with 20-30 per cent of pregnant women carrying group B streptococcus, vaginal seeding could result in many unintended neonatal exposures,” he said.
“We have already needed to intervene to prevent vaginal seeding from a woman with genital herpes, and we expect trouble if the procedure gains wide popularity.”
Consequently, the British Medical Journal has advised health professionals not to perform the practice while it has no proven health benefits but may have some risks. They’re also warning parents who have undertaken the practice to advise their doctor if the baby becomes unwell.
“Of course, this may change in the future if evidence emerges to show clear health benefits of vaginal seeding. But at the moment the jury remains out on whether vaginal seeding actually does more harm than good.”