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Babies Born via C-section Don't Get Important Bacteria

When babies are born vaginally they are exposed to good bacteria that live in the mother’s vagina. This exposure– or “colonization”–helps lay the foundation for the baby’s immune system.

A study published yesterday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that babies delivered via c-section are missing out on this good bacteria and are, instead, being exposed to less favorable bacteria–the kind found on the mother’s skin and within the hospital (including Staphylococcus and Acinetobacter).

Researchers wonder if differences in initial bacteria exposure can help explain why babies born surgically are at higher risk of infection than those born vaginally.

Speaking to Science News about this study, pediatrician Josef Neu describes a baby’s first encounter with bacteria thus: “It’s like a garden where few, if any, seeds have been planted. If you push in one direction you might get a lot of weeds, a lack of diversity. That can be associated with immune system problems.”

“This [study] isn’t damning the C-section” said Gary Huffnagle of the University of Michigan, “but it may be important to make sure your child gets a mouthful of vaginal material.” Rachel Ehrenberg, writing for Science News, echoes: “A better understanding of this early colonization, which is also influenced by events such as breast-feeding, may lead to medical practices for establishing healthy bacterial colonization.”

This does beg the question: Should we be slathering surgically born babies with mom’s vaginal “material”? Or spooning them a “mouthful”? Could this be the new “medical practice” of which Ehrenberg and Huffnagle speak? Sounds a little nuts, but if the bacteria is really so good….

photo: Coffeehero/Flickr

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