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My seven-year old son has just reached that lovely stage where he won't take a drink of his sister's water bottle, or finish the donut I was eating, because he's afraid that weird, foreign germs will reach his system that way. Years ago, he was obsessed with a song, found on YouTube, about bacteria: "bacteria, bacteria, everywhere you go," the song went. "You might not see them, but they're there." He didn't seem that bothered then, but he is certainly very bothered now.
It's not difficult to see the argument in favor of teaching young children, children who are still in the stage where they love to dig in the dirt and would even put a lollipop that had already been in someone's mouth in their own, about human conception and birth. "Oh,cool," my young son would say upon hearing about his birth. Now, if I were to bring it up again, I'm sure he'd pull faces at the idea that he passed through my birth canal. He doesn't like the thought of gut bacteria either. After hearing that Actimel was supposed to feed the good bacteria in his tummy, he gave up on the idea of trying to make me buy those expensive little bottles. Because — bacteria, eeew!
Disgusting as it would sound to my seven-year old son — and really, when we truly think about it, probably to most of us — it is a fact that, while vaginally-born babies pass through the birth canal, they are exposed to a rich amount of bacteria, bacteria that will become part of that baby's microbiome. Many of these bacteria are helpful, and become part of the individual's gut environment, which is as unique as a finger print. Indeed, humans are significantly outnumbered even within our own bodies.
Several studies, such as Penders at al (2006), Azad et al (2013), and Prince et al (2014), demonstrate that the microbiome of babies born vaginally differs significantly from that of babies born by c-section. While the microbiome of babies born vaginally resembles the colonies found in the vagina, consisting primarily of Lactobacillus, Prevotella and Sneathia, c-section babies are more likely have Staphylocci and C difficile — found on the mother's skin and in a hospital setting. Indeed, research indicates that the bacterial colonies that vaginally-birthed babies end up with is optimal. Some even go as far as to suggest that homebirth babies end up with extra-special microbiomes.
The bacteria a baby initially comes into contact with can do a lot to aid digestion and build a healthy immune system, if, that is, that baby is born in "the right way". What are you to do if you are a pregnant mother who needs a c-section, then? Are you just going to let your baby miss out on that wonderful bacterial cocktail? Of course not! After placentophagy (yes, eating your placenta) and water birth, natural birth advocates have come up with something new — "seeding". If that sounds creepy already, wait until you find out what it involves.