People Are Wiping Vaginal Fluid On Babies Born Via C-Section — Here's Why

Photographed by Nicole Maroon.

Vaginal seeding has become increasingly common over the past few years, and now doctors are weighing in on whether or not new parents should worry about the controversial practice.

It affects only babies born via c-section, who miss out on traveling down the birth canal, which is colonized by good bacteria. To make up for that, a baby is "seeded" by taking a cotton swab of its mother's vaginal fluids and wiping it over the newborn's mouth, nose, or skin.

It's thought that this will give the baby the same health benefits as are attributed to vaginal birth, such as a lower risk for asthma and allergies. For a few years now, doctors have been studying the effects of vaginal versus c-section births on a baby's microbiome — the community of healthy bacteria and other microscopic organisms that live on and in a person's body. Some research has linked vaginal birth, and the microbes that a baby picks up along the way, with a stronger immune system and lower chance of disease later in life.

But, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said in a statement on vaginal seeding, the research is still inconclusive and certainly not strong enough that new parents should be seeding their babies at home, which has its own set of risks.

The ACOG officially recommended against at-home vaginal seeding, and said in their statement that it should only be performed in the context of "an institutional review board-approved research protocol."

The organization has recommended to doctors that should a patient insist on seeding their child, then that patient should be tested for the microbes that cause herpes simplex virus, chlamydia, and gonorrhea among other things, all of which could be harmful if passed to the baby.

"It is further recommended that the obstetrician–gynecologist or other obstetric care provider document the discussion," the ACOG said. "Because of the theoretical risk of neonatal infection, the pediatrician or family physician caring for the infant should be made aware that the procedure was performed."

While the ACOG recommends against vaginal seeding in a non-controlled environment, they didn't say the practice is necessarily unsafe or ineffective. The consensus right now, it seems, is that more research needs to be done to make sure vaginal seeding is something doctors should recommend.

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