Does 'Vaginal Seeding' Work? Doctors Say There's Not Enough Evidence

iStock
iStock

People will do just about anything for their kids. And for some parents of babies born by Caesarean section, that includes swabbing a baby with bacteria from their mother’s vagina. It’s a new idea, but it’s catching on—despite the fact that there’s no evidence that it helps, as several doctors note in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). 

The practice is called “vaginal seeding,” and aims to bolster a newborn’s health with the helpful starter bacteria he or she might have missed by skipping the birth canal. Microbiome is the collective term for the ecosystems of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living on and in your body. As you’ve probably heard by now, not all microbes are bad. In fact, you need a certain diversity and balance of microbes to keep your body functioning. You pick up these microbes everywhere you go, from the doorknob of a hotel room to kissing a friend on the cheek. Most people get their first microbial download as they enter the world. But C-section babies don’t. 

The concept seems sound enough. But, as the authors of the BMJ editorial explain, there’s simply no evidence that vaginal seeding is actually effective or safe.

"Demand for this process has increased among women attending hospitals in the UK—but this has outstripped professional awareness and guidance,” co-author Aubrey Cunnington said in a press statement. “At the moment we're a long way from having the evidence base to recommend this practice. There is simply no evidence to suggest it has benefits—and it may carry potential risks." 

Swabbing a baby transfers all kinds of microbes, both harmful and helpful. And since there’s no catalog of which bacteria are being shared, there’s no way of knowing which pathogens might be causing a baby’s sickness down the line. 

"In some countries, including the UK, we don't test pregnant women for the bacteria group B streptococcus,” Cunnington continued. “This is carried by around one in four pregnant women, and although it poses no risk to the mother, it can cause fatal infections in babies. There are also other conditions that cause no symptoms in the mother, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes simplex virus that could be transferred on the swab. One colleague had to intervene when a mother with genital herpes, who had undergone a Caesarean section, was about to undertake this process. Swabbing would have potentially transferred the herpes virus to the baby." 

Hospital staff will also not expect a C-section baby to be vulnerable to the kinds of infections as a baby born of vaginal delivery. “It's important [that] parents tell staff they have performed the procedure, so the healthcare team are aware the baby is at risk of the same infections as a baby born by vaginal delivery," Cunnington added.

The bottom line is that parents and physicians should wait for more data before whipping out the swabs. In the meantime, Cunnington says, they can focus on evidence-based methods of boosting a baby’s microbiome: "Encouraging breast feeding and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics may be more important to a baby's gut bacteria than worrying about transferring vaginal fluid on a swab."

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Why Do Some Vaccines Hurt More Than Others?

Whether you experience pain with a vaccine shot may depend on what type you're getting.
Whether you experience pain with a vaccine shot may depend on what type you're getting.
Gustavo Fring, Pexels // Public Domain

Whether you’re planning a trip abroad, have poked yourself with a dirty thorn, or want to prepare for flu season, sitting down for a vaccine shot is not usually a big deal. Barring any fear or apprehension about needles, it’s one quick alcohol swab, a jab into your deltoid, and a bandage.

Some people, however, report that some vaccine shots feel more like a harpoon, with pain upon injection and residual soreness. Does the level of discomfort have anything to do with the vaccine being administered, the patient, or the health care provider?

According to Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, injection pain is a normal consequence of a shot designed to provoke an immune system response. Dr. Messonnier told The Wall Street Journal that inflammation around the injection site is an indication the vaccine is working.

When a vaccine is injected, antigens are introduced into the body. These proteins allow white blood cells to battle against viruses. When they’re jabbed into your arm, your body mounts a defense at the injection site, leading to inflammation.

Some vaccines tend to hurt a little more than others, like ones targeting hepatitis A and B and DTaP (for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis). It’s not totally clear why, but it’s possible that additives designed to strengthen the immune system, like aluminum salts or monophosphoryl lipid A, are the culprit. “These are safe ingredients added to the vaccine specifically to create a stronger immune response,” Messonnier told the paper, adding that some people might be more sensitive to them than others.

These additives aren’t the only reason vaccines can sting. The pH level of the solution (which can be acidic), the volume, and the temperature can also affect whether there’s discomfort.

If you or your child are needle-averse, you can try distraction techniques like music, request a numbing cream, or take an over-the-counter pain reliever to combat any post-injection soreness.

Incidentally, the shot probably won’t hurt any more or less if it’s delivered into your buttocks, as was the practice at one time. While some vaccines work well in fatty tissue, like MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella, which gets directed to the fat near your triceps), many do not. And because flu vaccines are often administered in public places like pharmacies, it’s probably best that they stick to your upper extremities.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]