What happens if you give c-section babies a vaginal microbiome?

Babies born by cesarian section have greater likelihoods of autoimmune diseases during childhood and later in life.  They also have a gut microbiome that resembles their mother’s skin right after birth. On the other hand, babies that are born vaginally have a gut microbiome that resembles their mothers’ vaginas, and are at lower risk for asthma and allergies.  Given the importance of the microbiome on immune development, many scientists believe that there may be a link between mode of delivery, the initial infant gut microbiome, and normal immune development.

One possible method to ensure a baby that is born by c-section is initially colonized by his or her mother’s vaginal microbiome is to swab the mother’s vagina and transfer her microbiome to the baby immediately after birth.  Researchers from New York University performed this exact experiment, and measured the changes that occurred in the gut after this intervention.  They published their results in the journal Nature Medicine.

In the study, 18 women were split into 3 groups: 7 women gave birth naturally, 7 women gave birth by c-section, and 4 women gave birth by c-section but had their vaginal flora transferred to the babies.  This last group of women had their vaginas screened for pathogens shortly before birth.  After the c-section, and within 2 minutes after, gauze was rubbed in the new mothers’ vaginas and then rubbed all over babies’ mouths, faces, and bodies.  The babies’ skin and gut microbiomes were measured and compared to the other two groups.  As expected, the babies born vaginally had microbiomes that resembled their mothers’ vaginas, and the babies born by c-section had microbiomes that resembled their mothers’ skin.  Interestingly, the c-section babies that were inoculated with their mothers’ vaginal microbiomes, had a microbiome that closely resembled their mothers’ vaginas, even after 1 month.  In addition, there were no adverse consequences to the microbiome transfer.

This was a small proof of concept study that successfully showed a vaginal microbiome transfer to c-section babies could properly colonize a newly born infant.  Further studies still need to confirm that the skin microbiome is unhealthy for a c-section baby, but if it is, then these vaginal flora inoculations may become a critical procedure to ensure a healthy immune system for all newborn infants.


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