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I read a piece called “Cesarean Birth Linked to Childhood Obesity” that discussed the baby being introduced to the mom’s good bacteria as he is being born through the mom’s vagina. Theories about allergies, Type I Diabetes, and Celiac Disease have all been implicated in children not receiving their mother’s colonization from their good bacteria when going through the vagina.

Another a June 2012 study offers a detailed look at the early stages of the body's colonization by microbes. Babies born vaginally were colonized predominantly by Lactobacillus, whereas cesarean delivery babies were colonized by a mixture of potentially pathogenic bacteria typically found on the skin and in hospitals, such as Staphylococcus and Acinetobacter, suggesting babies born by CD were colonized with skin flora in lieu of traditionally vaginal type of bacterium.

There’s so much science here, I’m just going to leave it to the researchers. I know they are studying it, they are pcking apart vaginal and cesarean births, I suspect they are taking the different modes of transportation apart (via the nose, mouth, eyes, ears or a combo of any of the methods). I’m just wondering what we do know about it?

Do we add lines in our birth plans that ask for a swab of vaginal fluid if we have a cesarean so we can run it on our breast for our baby to colonize with it? I would ask for a large swab, not a q-tip sized one). Today it seems kind of gross smearing our juices on our breasts and the laying the baby on there to nuzzle. But, I don’t see it being too far in the future when it becomes the standard of care. Might we take a cloth and schmear it down the woman’s whoo haa and then rub on  the baby’s face and then clean the face off. Any of these ways seem doable to colonize the baby.

Is this far in our future? Already I hear about CMNs who swab for the mom and know that women ask for the ability to colonize their babies. Would I be doing this if it were me or Meghann? Absolutely.

What are your thoughts about this controversial experience with colonization?

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Reader Comments (8)

As a matter of fact, the vagina is almost as "dirty" as the anus in terms of the bacteria in it. Certainly, being born into an environment as sterile as possible [the skin is disinfected, the area immediately adjoining the C/S incision is draped with sterile towels] would suggest LESS bacterial colonization for the infant. GBS, for example, is avoided in a C/S, as is herpes, to mention a bacteria and a virus one does NOT want to colonize one's infant. Moreover many women have either candida or trichomonas present in the vagina without overt symptoms of vaginitis.

Some recent research suggests we are not doing babies any favors by trying to keep their immediate environment as close to sterile as possible. Being exposed to bacteria stimulates the immune system [unless the contact is overwhelming].

I think this is yet another attempt to "show" that C/Ss Are A Bad Thing, when in fact anyone who studies the subject knows that the two medical advances which cut maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality to less than a 10th of what they were a century ago are general anesthesia and antibiotics -- which made C/S a feasible alternative. As with any technology, abuse and misuse are negative but there is no doubt that the availability of C/S has saved uncounted moms and babies.

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAntigonos CNM

This is one of my main concerns too about GBS antibiotics - if I understand the theory, all vaginal bacteria are being nuked by the antibiotics, so the effect should be similar to a cesarean birth. This is actually something that I put in my birth plan - in case of transport and cesarean, we need to do something along those lines. Thanks for sharing this - it does not get enough attention in mainstream obstetrics, or even midwifery.

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

A-hem Barb, the colonization is mostly from mother's fecal content in a vaginal birth, you know that (at least you should). There is a reason women are cleaning our their guts before delivery and then while delivering (a little goes a long way), the majority that colonize a newborn's guts aren't from vaginal fluids.

Or, think of it this way, baby elephants are known to eat mother's feces and indeed mom has been filmed defecating on her newborn too - it is pretty crucial that the vegetarian newborn get her bacteria otherwise it will starve when it tries to digest cellulose in wood and grass. Not that we're elephants, just that we don't use the bacterial and yeast on our bellies to digest but the ones that are in our alimentary canal - and there are only two sites for access to that canal in our bodies. Which begs the question of where we got the bacteria to ferment yogurt and cheeses, did we first harvest it from fecal contamination or were our guts contaminated by yogurt strains.

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEthel

I think it makes a lot of sense! And, really- the baby is being smeared in a vaginal birth so while it seems strange to somehow introduce the vaginal juice to the baby- it also seems like it is another way to help the little one who, for some reason or another, could not be born vaginally. Why wouldn't we want to help a little one in every way possible?

May 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

I would certainly try to mimic exposer to my,,,errr...vaginal flora... if I had a child born via cesarean. With a quick search on the internet I couldn't find any studies examining outcomes for swabbed vs unswabbed cesarean born babies but I don't see where it could hurt.

Of course, who would have ever thought that cEFM would have had the impact that it did when on the face of it one would wonder "How could it hurt?" I suppose we'll just have to wait and see....

June 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

To my layperson's eyes, it seems like a practice that would have few harms. So yes, I'd probably ask to do this too! (And I do like the idea of swabbing vaginal fluids onto mom's chest rather than swabbing them directly into baby's mouth, which would seem to disturb those initial breastfeeding attempts.)

I'd love to see a study comparing the colonization of babies born by cesarean who do and don't have one of these sorts of swabs!

June 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

The C-section makes fat adults study is flawed. They didn't control for things like if the mother was obese herself or if there was a family history of obesity. They didn't control for the way people were raised...if you have poverty, in the US you're more likely to be overweight. You're more likely to live in an area where there's a food desert and where it's not safe for your kids to run around outside and play. Because of all those factors, they simply are making a correlation, not a causation.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterblargh

Hello! Its so good to find your site and MAN! Are you a prolific writer & I am in awe.
I love that this piece on the Microbiome was written before (MY recollection, any way) the big studies on it came out-- you, my friend, are before your time!
We have much in common (La Leche League, gastric bypass, we both trained at Casa- I was there for 9 months in 1979-1980) and I just wanted to say hello, and give kudos for such a raw, honest and I-don't-give-a-crap-what-they-say blog. Please don't stop- My worst fear is that normal birth will cease to be (I am now an Rn in a traditional L&D-- more a part of the Problem and less a part of the Solution, these days, sadly). Blessed Be,

December 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTamera Everett RNc

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