Babies inherit a lot from their mothers, including genes, possible diseases, and even their microbes. However, since cesarean section babies do not pass through the birth canal, they lack essential bacteria that help fight disease and promote development. Researchers believe that the increasing epidemic of obesity, asthma, allergies, Type 1 diabetes, Celiac disease and other chronic diseases can be related to the rise in cesarean sections and disturbances in the microbiome during birth.
A recent study published in Nature Medicine indicates that this idea has potential.
But how? Transplanting the microbes from the mother’s birth canal to a newborn can potentially partially establish and stabilize the microbiome that would naturally occur in babies during vaginal birth.
The researchers have emphasized that they need to study their results further to know the effectiveness and want to monitor the children throughout their lifetime to observe whether the intervention improves their health.
In the meantime, the researchers have emphasized that this should not be attempted at home because there is a risk dangerous pathogens could be transferred to the babies.
The women participating in the study were screened for known pathogens, including HIV and STIs, ahead of time and also given preventative antibiotics for group B Streptococcus (GBS) as a precaution, which is standard perinatal care.
"It's a very important study. It's showing that this is a possible intervention that might restore a health-promoting microbiome and lead to improved health outcomes for life," Juliette Madan, who studies babies’ microbiomes at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, says.
The doctors involved in the study placed a piece of gauze inside the mother’s birth canal prior to birth via cesarean section, which soaked up their microbes. Once born, the doctors swabbed the babies with the gauze, concentrating on the mouth and face before moving onto the rest of their body.
The researchers sampled and analyzed the babies' microbes repeatedly during their first month and compared their microbiomes to C-section babies not swabbed, as well as babies born vaginally.
Reports show that the bacterial communities of the of the C-section babies’ mouths, guts and skin covered in their mother’s microbiome looked similar to those of babies delivered vaginally rather than C-section babies that did not receive the microbiome transplant.
Specific bacteria that were found in higher quantities included Lactobacillus and Bacteroides, which are considered beneficial bacteria. However, the C-section babies studies did not completely establish their microbiome as babies born vaginally.
Further research would follow babies for up to seven years to observe whether the intervention decreases disease risk. If the answer to this question is yes, a next-generation probiotic containing the bacteria babies need will be developed, which would also diminish the risk of transferring potentially dangerous microbes.
Dominguez-Bella, Maria G., et al. (2016) Partial restoration of the microbiota of cesarean-born infants via vaginal microbial transfer. Nature Medicine. doi: 10.1038/nm.4039