Gauze seeding: the bacteria-breeding birth trend

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According to scientists, one of the most important things to play a role in human health and vitality is the human microbiome - the collection of trillions of bacteria that lives on us and in us. The 'seeds' of this are established at birth.

And scientists have discovered that the microbiome of babies born via caesarean is different to that of babies born vaginally.

So what does this mean?

Well, in simple terms, it means the babies born via caesarean aren't exposed to the same level of microbiome as babies born vaginally. As a result, researchers have already found connections between caesarean-born babies and the rising cases of health problems such as obesity, asthma, eczema and Type 1 diabetes.

Faced with this new research, a number of women having caesarean deliveries – not necessarily out of choice – are now taking steps to give their baby a better 'microbiome' start in life.

The technique that enables them to do it is called 'gauze seeding', or just 'seeding'.

Frederique Rattue is one such woman. When the London mum found out her son would have to be delivered by caesarean due to health reasons, Rattue wanted to ensure he got the same start in life as her other three children, who were born vaignally.

She described the process in an interview with a UK website, saying that a sterile gauze is first folded into a fan shape to maximise surface area. It's then "moistened with sterile water and inserted into the vagina and left to 'colonise' for one hour," she said.

"The gauze is then removed and put into a sealed bag until the birth of the baby. When the baby is given to mum at birth, the midwife can then pass the swab over the baby's face to mimic passage through the birth canal."

Evidence so far shows that this has a positive impact on the human microbiome, although it still doesn't give the same result as a vaginal birth.

According to Dr Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, Associate Professor in the Human Microbiome Programme at NYU, analysis shows that gauze seeding doubles the

number of bacteria that caesarean babies were exposed to.

However, she highlights that results of the vaginal process are six times higher, because the vaginal delivery exposes the baby to a lot more bacteria.

"That's logical because during labour, the baby is rubbing against the mucosa of the birth canal for a long time and bacteria start growing even before the baby is out - growing and colonising the baby during birth," she told Best Daily.

"Also, C-sections involve antibiotics, and we don't know what the effect is of that gram of penicillin."

So what do our experts here in Australia say, and is this something we can expect to see more of in the future?

Hannah Dahlen, professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, says more research is needed.

"There's been a lot of work on the microbiome regarding diet and stress, but in the last few years there's been much more focus on birth because of the realisation that there is about 300-400 bacteria in the vagina that the baby ingests and is exposed to on its way out," she says.

"There's also a realisation that what we actually thought was a sterile uterine environment isn't, and that there are bacteria present in the placenta and amniotic fluid as well."

Despite this, and the link to a healthier microbiome through vaginal birth, Dahlen says we need to wait for further results before all women start gauze seeding.

"I worry about women doing this sort of thing in different ways and, unfortunately, there are some women who are doing it and doing it secretly because they feel unsupported in a public domain," she says.

In the meantime, Dahlen advises that there are ways in which all women can positively prime their babies microbiome after birth, regardless of how they arrived.

"What we absolutely know and have strong scientific based evidence on is that both skin to skin after birth and exclusive breastfeeding is key in developing healthy microbiome," she says.