As babies squeeze through the birth canal they encounter several kinds of naturally occurring vaginal bacteria that babies born by cesarean do not. The long-term health implications of these missing microbes are still unknown, however research suggests that babies born surgically are more prone to allergies and autoimmune disorders as adults. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, PhD, associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone, is among a growing chorus of researchers who believe that bacteria in the birth canal play a role in helping babies form healthy immune systems, and she’s developed an innovative method to help cesarean babies acquire a similar bacterial mix as vaginally born babies.
In a small proof-of-principle study published in Nature Medicine—the first glimpse of a larger effort in the works at NYU Langone—Dr. Dominguez- Bello and colleagues described how they partially restored vaginal microbes to four babies born via cesarean. At a collaborating hospital in Puerto Rico, doctors swabbed each newborn with the mother’s vaginal fluids. One month later, the bacteria profile on the infants’ skin more closely resembled those of vaginally delivered babies than of untreated C-section babies.
“Our results establish feasibility but not health outcomes,” cautions Dr. Dominguez-Bello. The next step is a larger clinical study to gauge the benefits of transferring vaginal microbes after a C-section birth.