Vaginal what now? No, this doesn’t involve growing things out of your nether regions but is actually about providing your newborn with healthy bacteria after a c-section.
This is a part of a movement to make cesarean births more empowered. There are tons of benefits to c-sections; as a key component of modern medicine, the ability to perform cesarean deliveries directly reduces maternal mortality rates. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an average of no more than 15% of births by cesarean section, for best maternal and neonatal outcomes, but in Canada and the United States, these numbers are astronomically higher. In 2017, the Canadian rate of c-sections was 28.2%, and this trend is only going up.
More c-sections doesn’t necessarily mean healthier babies, however. Studies show that children born via c-section have higher rates of diabetes, eczema, obesity, celiac disease and other food intolerances, and other autoimmune conditions thought to be associated with early association with maternal microbiome at birth. That makes sense when you think of all the healthy bacteria that gets transferred onto baby when passing through the vaginal canal that gets missed out on when the baby is born via cesarean. And when we look at the trend that these types of diseases and autoimmune conditions are on the rise, it’s not surprising when we see how our rising c-section rates compare.
The human microbiome is being studied in really interesting ways, showing us that gut health can be tied to so many diseases and overall health outcomes. I’m sure you’ve heard of the big push for probiotics and eating fermented foods to improve gut health, so all this science is coming from the same place. Starting a healthy microbiome from birth, however, is new information. That’s where vaginal seeding comes to play.
HOW IT WORKS
To put it simply, vaginal seeding is the swabbing of a newborn baby born via cesarean with the birthing person’s vaginal fluids. These fluids are collected prior to birth; your care provider will supply you with a sterile gauze to be inserted into the vagina for one hour, then stored safely to be swabbed on baby. Once baby is born, the gauze is swabbed first across the mouth and face, then over the rest of the baby’s body, often prior to the rest of the newborn examination.
WHATS THE EVIDENCE
In a major, albeit tiny study, the microbiome of infants who had vaginal seeding after a cesarean delivery resembled that of vaginally delivered infants. Crazy, right? While there is definitely more evidence needed, the idea behind exposing your newborn to the healthy bacteria that they would have been exposed to in a vaginal delivery makes a lot of sense.
The downfall of this study was that is was really only a short-term thing, and there are no long-term studies on the topic. Participants in the study all had a vaginal pH of 4.5, and none had Bacterial vaginosis. That being said, if you have any vaginal infections, it’s undetermined whether or not this practice is safe for your newborn, as it has the potential to expose them to the infections you’re carrying. If this is something that you’re interested in, I would recommend getting tested for potentially infected infections like Group B Strep (GBS), hepatitis, gonorrhoea, etc, which could result in a nasty infection for your newborn as well.
If this is something you would like to incorporate into your birth plan, talk to your care provider during pregnancy, as testing and actually gathering the swab is something you need to prepare before birth.
OTHER WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR NEWBORNS MICROBIOME
Practice attachment parenting: starting with skin-to-skin immediately after birth, staying close to your baby will encourage the healthy transfer of bacteria and improve their natural defence system.
Request delayed bathing: let the newborn vernix absorb as long as possible. That white cheesy stuff on your baby after birth is packed proteins, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial compounds. Rub the vernix in like a moisturizer during skin-to-skin time after birth. The majority of vernix will be absorbed in the first 24 hours, and pretty much all within 5-6 days. You can delay the first bath until then - there’s no need to wash your baby before that time. Just gently wipe & wash any baby messes with mild baby soap.
Probiotics: You can take probiotics throughout pregnancy and while you nurse to improve your gut health, and also you can offer your baby an infant probiotic as well. There are little risk and tons of benefits, so I recommend this to all my clients
Get a little dirty: it's okay to let your little one play in the mud. Getting dirty in nature exposes them to microbiomes in the soil; there are also benefits to exposing your newborn to household pets and just even time in the outdoors to soak in those elements.
Wondering what other components should be in your birth plan? Talk to The Birth Boss about a virtual doula package, which includes a free download of a birth planning worksheet!
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