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A Microbe Wipe Could Bridge The Gap Between Vaginal And C-Section Deliveries

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What's so special about vaginal birth? Without getting too graphic, babies who pass through the birth canal are covered with their mother's fluid, receiving microbes that are especially beneficial to immune system development. This is what c-section babies are missing out on. So, as a team of researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center decided, why not just wipe c-section babies down with that fluid after delivery? Research published in the journal Nature Medicine shows this simple strategy might just be effective.

"Our study is the first to demonstrate that partial microbiome restoration just after birth is possible in babies born by c-section," says lead study author Maria Dominguez-Bello, PhD. "With a third of U.S. babies now born by c-section, twice the number as is medically necessary, the question of whether a baby's founding microbiome affects its future disease risk has become more urgent."

Another JAMA Pediatrics study published just two weeks ago validates Dominguez-Bello's sense of urgency, finding that both babies delivered vaginally and babies who are exclusively breastfed have higher levels of strains of gut bacteria important for immune system development.

To put their theory to the test, NYU researchers swabbed four babies with gauze pads that had soaked up microbes from their mother's birth canals just prior to birth. Compared to the seven other c-section babies involved in the study, these babies had microbiomes similar to their vaginal-birth baby counterparts 30 days after birth. Specifically, both swabbed babies and vaginally-delivered babies showed higher levels of Lactobacillus and Bacteroides, the immunity-boosting strains of bacteria identified in the JAMA Pediatrics study last month.

Researchers say more studies and longer-term studies are needed to see how this method could benefit babies later in life. But this is a promising start.

"The current study represents proof of a principle in a small cohort, and shows that our method is worthy of further development as we seek to determine the health impact of microbial differences," says Dominguez-Bello.

In the meantime, don't try this swabbing method at home, okay? Researchers warn that mothers could run the risk of passing dangerous bacteria onto their babies.

By Anisa Arsenault