Birth of a microbiome: Researchers smear babies with vaginal fluid

Birth, like life, is messy. But, while life’s messes often harm health, the untidiness of our entrance into the world may profoundly protect it—at least that’s a leading hypothesis among microbiome researchers.

Microbes picked up from mom while in or exiting the womb kick-off humans’ lifelong association with the invisible critters that live in and on us and affect our health. In cases where that microbial colonization of a newborn goes awry, researchers have noted links to chronic health problems, such as asthma, obesity, allergies and immune deficiencies. Researchers have also found that such a microbial debacle is often brought on by Cesarean delivery (C-section), which is a common surgical procedure to birth a baby through the mother’s abdomen rather than the normal shove down the birth canal.

To reverse the potential ill-fate of C-section babies, researchers smeared surgically delivered babies with the vaginal fluids from their mothers in the moments just after birth. After tracking the babies and their microbiomes for a month, the researchers report Monday in Nature Medicine that the quick slather partly restored normal microbiome development.

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