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Does Delivery Method Affect Babies' Gut Bacteria? Yes, Says Study

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The rate of cesarean section births, also known as C-section births, is on the rise across the globe. Between 2000 and 2015, this rate has jumped from 12 to 21 percent worldwide, according to a report published in The Lancet. There can be various medical reasons as well as personal reasons for opting for a C-section.

A recent study, done by researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UCL, the University of Birmingham and their collaborators, found that there is a difference in the gut bacteria of babies delivered vaginally and those born via caesarean.

Babies born vaginally picked up their gut bacteria from the mother's gut while caesarean delivered babies had more bacteria associated with the hospital environment, say the researchers. However, by the time the babies were 1 year old, the differences in gut bacteria between vaginally born and caesarean delivered babies largely evened out. The precise function of the baby's gut bacteria is not clear and it is not known whether the delivery methods will affect their subsequent health.

However, the bacteria in the gut are said to play an important role in immune system development and are linked to many autoimmune diseases like asthma, allergies, and diabetes.

This study, which is the largest ever study of neonatal microbiomes, also suggests that microbiome of vaginally delivered newborns is not influenced by the mother's vaginal bacteria, but depends on the bacteria in mother's gut.

Of late, there has been a growing interest in vaginal seeding after Cesarean section delivery. Vaginal seeding is the practice of using cotton gauze or a cotton swab to transfer the mother's vaginal fluids to the mouth, nose or skin of a newborn in order to transfer a mother's vaginal bacteria to her baby. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

The finding that microbiome of vaginally delivered newborns is not influenced by the mother's vaginal bacteria only casts doubt on the practice of vaginal seeding.

Commenting on the study findings, Trevor Lawley, a senior author on the paper from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said, "This is the largest genomic investigation of newborn babies' microbiomes to date. We discovered that the mode of delivery had a great impact on the gut bacteria of newborn babies, with the transmission of bacteria from mother to baby occurring during vaginal birth. Further understanding of which species of bacteria help create a healthy baby microbiome could enable us to create bacterial therapies."

And this is what Alison Wright, Consultant Obstetrician and Vice President of The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, had to say about this research, "In many cases, a Caesarean is a life-saving procedure, and can be the right choice for a woman and her baby. The exact role of the microbiome in the newborn and what factors can change it are still uncertain, so we don't think this study should deter women from having a caesarean. This study shows that more research is required to improve our understanding of this important area."

The study was published in Nature, a science journal.

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