Scientists Fed C-Section Babies Their Mothers' Feces to See if It Would Boost Important Bacteria

Babies born via cesarean section can miss out on the helpful bacteria that other newborns get from their mothers' birth canal. Now, scientists have shown in a small study that feeding cesarean babies their mother's feces mixed with breastmilk can boost friendly bacteria to similar levels of those born vaginally.

However, experts warned parents against trying the approach at home, as the study published in the journal Cell was done in a safe way.

Past studies have found that the microbiota (or the germs that populate our bodies) of babies born by C-section are different when compared with babies born vaginally. Evidence suggests such infants may be at higher risk of having short and long-term health problems, such as type 1 diabetes. Controversially, swabbing a newborn's face with its mother's vaginal fluid has emerged as an unproven trend to try to combat this.

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A stock image shows a baby. Scientists have explored the potential for FMTs using a mother's breast milk and stool sample. Getty

To recreate the way a baby's gut is normally colonized with microbes from the mother's gut during a vaginal birth, the Cell researchers recruited seven pregnant mothers due to have C-sections. They agreed to have what is known as a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), where germs from her stools would be transferred to her baby.

Mothers donated their feces three weeks prior to giving birth, so the team could screen it for harmful germs. All of the women gave birth at 37 weeks and breastfed exclusively for at least two months.

Each baby was given a sample of their mother's stool mixed with some of the first breast milk they were ever fed. They were monitored in the hospital for two days. All were found to be healthy and developed normally after three months.

The team compared the microbiota of the babies in their study to 82 not given the experimental treatment, born either vaginally or via C-section. They found the microbiota of the babies given an FMT more resembled that of vaginally delivered babies than those born via C-section who were not treated. The approach appeared to correct the lack of certain types of bacteria seen in C-section babies, according to the authors.

"Although follow-up monitoring [of the babies] is desired, the presented results are clearly promising," the authors wrote. Transferring these bacteria from mother to baby may "have widespread consequences for the long-term health of these infants."

Dr. Alison Cahill, chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Clinical Consensus Committee, Obstetrics, who did not work on the study, told Newsweek there is some evidence to suggest that lacking contact with vaginal microbes may increase the risk of asthma, allergies and immune disorders in children, but proving this is the cause "is a complicated but critical process before an intervention is applied, especially an intervention with potential risk."

Cahill said swabbing an infant's mouth, nose or skin with vaginal fluid or including fecal matter in an infant's breast milk after birth could potentially, and unknowingly, pass on disease-causing bacteria or viruses, and there is not sufficient data to recommend these practices at this time.

"Instead, new moms can breastfeed for up to the first six months and provide their babies with the same benefits," she said.

Dr. Aubrey Cunnington, who researches pediatric infectious diseases at Imperial College London, U.K., who also did not work on the paper, told Newsweek the study seemed "very novel and interesting," but said readers should not try the approach at home.

Graham Rook, emeritus professor of medical microbiology at UCL in the U.K. who also did not work on the research told Newsweek the study was "excellently performed" and much larger studies are needed to definitely prove the technique is safe and is significantly beneficial for the long-term health of the individual.