Vaginal seeding is a practice used for babies born by caesarean section that aims to mimic the exposure to bacteria that would have occurred during a normal vaginal delivery. It involves rubbing vaginal fluid on the baby’s mouth, face and body, with the intention of exposing it to the “healthy” bacteria it would be exposed to in a vaginal birth.
This is not a standard practice. It first hits the news in the United States in 2015. It is believed that the practice of vaginal seeding improves the baby’s immunity.
The origin of this practice came from reports that found associations between being born by caesarean section and a “modest” increased risk of obesity, asthma and autoimmune diseases. Other observational studies have shown associations between these conditions and changes in the different varieties of micro-organisms, such as bacteria normally present on and in the body. These and other animal studies suggest exposure to these bacteria may play a role in developing a healthy immune system and reducing the risk of certain non-infectious diseases.
Despite the lack of studies proving cause and effect, many women in Australia and the UK are reportedly requesting the procedure after reading about it in the news.
Besides its unproven benefits, the vaginal seeding may risk the babies developing serious infections from potentially harmful bacteria (Group B Streptococcus, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea) or viruses (Hepatitis B, Genital herpes) from unaware mothers.
The current medical consensus is not to perform the procedure because there is no evidence of any benefits. The risk of harm cannot be justified. However, if the mothers have made an informed decision for vaginal seeding, their wishes should be respected.
Finally, the practice of breastfeeding and limiting exposure to antibiotics are both recommended ways to help the child obtain a wide variety of normal bacteria needed to build a strong immune system. In summary, the practice of vaginal seeding lacks evidence to be routinely instituted on Caesarean birth babies.