C-Section Babies May Not Have Same Beneficial Bacteria at Birth

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A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that babies born via cesarean section (C-section) have different bacteria on their skin, noses and mouths than those born vaginally which may have an effect on the development of immune-related troubles later in life.

Each of us has a unique collection of bacteria both inside and outside of the body. Some of those bacteria are important for the proper functioning of the immune system. Previous research suggests that babies born via C-section are more likely to develop immunity-related conditions such as allergies and asthma, so researchers set out to find a link between bacteria transmitted from mom at birth and such conditions.

The study, conducted at the Puerto Ayacucho Hospital in Venezuela, included nine women and their ten newborns (one woman had twins). The mothers’ skin, mouth, and vagina were sampled an hour before delivery. The babies’ mouths and skin were swabbed immediately after birth and their rectums swabbed after their first bowel movement.

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In general, the DNA analysis revealed that the four babies born vaginally carried bacterial populations that matched those of their mothers’ vaginas. They were predominantly colonized by Lactobacillus, bacteria that aid in milk digestion and produce vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting.

The babies born by C-section had a more generic mixture of skin bacteria, such as Staphylococcus and Acinetobacter, similar to that found on the skin of the moms. Staphylococcus is found normally in the nose and on the skin of 25-30% of healthy adults and the bacteria do not cause disease. However, a CDC report from 2006 found that Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus Infection (MRSA) was also more common in babies born by C-section.

Direct transmission of mother’s vaginal bacteria onto newborns may act as a defense against disease by limiting the colonization of more harmful pathogens. Pediatrician Josef Neu of the University of Florida in Gainesville said that the body’s first bacteria are critical for establishing the microbial scene.

“It’s like a garden where few, if any, seeds have been planted. If you push in one direction you might get a lot of weeds, a lack of diversity,” Neu says. “That can be associated with immune system problems.”

“The research is preliminary,” says study author Maria G. Dominguez-Bello, associate professor of biology at the University of Puerto Rico, but it could help determine whether babies will benefit by being exposed to germs at birth that they wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

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