Feeding C-section babies their mother's poop could improve their immune systems, study finds

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  • Babies born by C-section may be at a higher risk for immune-related conditions than babies who are born vaginally.
  • The reason for this could be that, at birth, C-section babies don't ingest their mothers' microbiota, which can boost their immune health.
  • A new study published in the journal Cell found that serving babies a small portion of their mothers' poop could improve their microbiota.

Feeding babies born by C-section a small amount of their mothers' poop may help them get the same healthy start as babies who are born vaginally, a study published on Thursday in the journal Cell found.

C-section babies have "really different" microbiota than babies born vaginally, which may explain why C-section babies develop immune-related conditions such as, asthma, allergies, type one diabetes, and other health issues later on in life, said Willem de Vos, a co-author of the study and professor of human microbiomics ​at the University of Helsinki.

Microbiota refer to the microbes living in a person's gut, which play an essential role in building the immune system in early life. C-section babies tend to lack strains of gut bacteria that healthy children and adults have. They also often harbor harmful microbes that are common in hospitals. This may be because babies born vaginally ingest their mothers' microbiota in her vagina and perineum during birth, and C-section babies don't. Advertisement

"This is a gift the mother gives to her baby," Sture Andersson, a co-author of the study, said of the transfer of microbial material in a vaginal delivery.

Serving a newborn born by C-section a little bit of their mother's poop may help them get that same "gift."

Babies born by C-section were fed a small portion of their mothers' poop mixed with breast milk

For the study, the authors solicited seven mothers who had scheduled C-sections. The authors collected poop samplings from each woman to test for pathogens. After the births, each baby was fed about three-and-a-half milligrams of their mother's feces, mixed with breast milk.
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The babies' fecal microbiota was tested at birth, and they remained in the hospital for two days to be monitored for complications. The babies' were tested regularly for three months.

At that point, the C-section babies' microbiota was similar to the microbiota of babies born vaginally, Willem said. It was significantly different from babies born via C-section who didn't receive the fecal transplant. The study demonstrated that "we can normalize the microbiota development in early life by fecal matter transplant of C-section born babies," Willem said. Advertisement

With further research, and more safety and efficacy data, fecal transfers at birth could become common practice for C-section babies in the future, Willem said.

Willem also emphasized that this is something that should only be implemented in a clinical setting, and not be attempted at home.

In the past, doctors had tried other approaches to give missing microbiota to babies born by C-section. That has included swabbing a baby's face with vaginal fluid after birth and giving certain probiotics. Swabbing hasn't worked, Willem said. There's no consensus as to which probiotics work, if any at all.Advertisement

"It may be better to have a more natural way of getting the right microbes in the C-section baby," Willem said.

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