All About Babies

C-Section Babies May Benefit From a Simple Swab

A study suggests a simple swab could offer C-section babies protective benefits similar to those received during a vaginal delivery.

newborn baby in hospital Sarah Wolfe Photography/Getty Images
It has long concerned doctors and mothers alike that babies delivered via C-section do not receive the same vital, protective microbes as babies born vaginally. That's because when a baby passes through the birth canal, he or she is exposed to helpful bacteria with immune benefits, and the same effect does not take place in a Cesarean delivery.

But now, new research out of the University of California, San Diego has found that a simple swab from a mom's vagina to her Cesarean newborn can actually alter the baby's microbial makeup so it resembles that of a vaginally delivered baby. Translation: The swab can give C-section babies the good bacteria from mom they missed out on by not passing through her birth canal.

For the small pilot study, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers looked at 18 infants and their moms, seven of whom delivered vaginally, and 11 of whom delivered via scheduled C-section. Four of the babies born via cesarean were then exposed to their mothers' vaginal fluids within two minutes of birth. Specifically, the newborns' mouths, faces and bodies were swabbed with sterile gauze that had been incubated inside the mom's vagina for an hour prior to delivery.

Then, six times over the first month of life, researchers collected anal, oral and skin samples from the mom and baby pairs. The result: the microbial makeup of the four c-section babies who were swabbed more closely resembled those of the vaginally born babies versus the unexposed cesarean babies.

Researchers plan to study this effect on a larger scale, and also hope to determine how long the protective effects of the swab would actually last. In other words, could a swab mitigate the known health risks for babies born via c-section such as obesity, asthma, allergies, atopic disease and other immune deficiencies?

We look forward to finding out!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.