Seeding sounds like something you do in your garden in the springtime, but it’s also the term being used for a new practice, meant to expose babies born via Cesarean section to the antibodies they would normally get from their mothers during a vaginal birth. In this case, seeding means swabbing the newborn with healthy bacteria collected from the mother’s birth canal, mimicking the exposure a baby would experience during a natural birth. This practice arose as a response to the reality that babies born via C-section may be more prone to allergies and other conditions because they lack these vital microbes. Is seeding the way to give C-section babies a leg up?
It may sound like a strange thing to do, but it’s not without scientific basis. Recent studies like this one suggest a link between being born via C-section and experiencing a host of health challenges, including allergies, diabetes, asthma, obesity, autoimmune diseases, and other conditions. The figures for those conditions in babies born vaginally are much lower, which suggests that C-section babies may be more prone to them because they don’t get a dose of mom’s antibodies if they are born surgically.
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As parents and doctors look for ways to reduce children’s risks of health problems, seeding seems like a natural next step. But does it work? There is some evidence to suggest it has an impact. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a microbiologist at New York University School of Medicine is considered to be at the forefront of research on the practice of seeding. In her recent study of 21 babies in Puerto Rico, she found that swab seeding positively affected the microbiome in newborns. Essentially, that means that those babies showed some of the 300 to 400 species of microbes that they would have gotten from their mothers if they had been born vaginally, but instead the transfer was done by swabbing.
There are a great many reasons why a baby might need to be born via C-section, and with C-section rates in the United States rising rapidly in recent decades, it’s nice to think that there might be a way to help those babies begin their lives with all the health advantages that nature intended.