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Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

When a baby is born through its mother’s birth canal, it is bathed in a soup of microbes. Those born by caesarean section (C-section) miss out on this bacterial baptism. The differences in microbe exposure at birth and later health could be caused by other factors, such as whether a mother takes antibiotics during her surgery, and whether a baby is breastfed or has a genetic predisposition to obesity. So, the researchers are sharply split on whether or not this missing of bacterial exposure increases the risk of chronic health problems such as obesity and asthma.

 

Researchers found that babies delivered surgically harboured different collections of bacteria than did those born vaginally. C-section babies, which comprise more than 30% of births in the United States, are also more prone to obesity and immune diseases such as diabetes. Experiments show that mice born by C-section are more prone to obesity and have impaired immune systems. There are fewer factors that could account for these differences in the rodents, which can be studied in controlled conditions, than in people.

 

A wave of clinical trials now under way could help to settle the question — and feed into the debate over whether seeding babies born by C-section with their mother’s vaginal bacteria is beneficial or potentially harmful. Several groups of researchers will be swabbing hundreds of C-section babies with their mother’s microbes, while comparing them to a control group. Each team plans to monitor its study participants over several years in the hope of learning more about how the collection of microbes in their bodies might influence weight, allergy risk and other factors.

 

But some scientists say that the trials could expose C-section babies to infection, or encourage mothers to try do-it-yourself swabbing, without much evidence that there is a benefit or risk. Moreover, there is no evidence that differing exposure to vaginal microbes at birth can help explain variation in people’s health over time. Presently the whole concept is in very much a state of uncertainty.

 

Researchers in near future will compare swabbed C-section babies with a placebo group and with infants delivered vaginally. They confirmed that their protocols will not increase the risk of infection for C-section babies. Scientists will also rigorously screen mothers participating in these trials for microbes such as HIV and group B streptococcus — a common vaginal bacterium that causes respiratory problems in newborns.

 

References:

 

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02348-3?utm_source=Nature+Briefing

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31431742

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20566857

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25452656

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22939691

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24030708

 

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2017/02/22/babys-microbiome-changing-due-to-caesarean-birth-and-formula-feeding/

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