A critical review of the bacterial baptism hypothesis and the impact of cesarean delivery on the infant microbiome

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Numerous studies suggest that infants delivered by cesarean section are at a greater risk of non-communicable diseases than their vaginal counterparts. In particular, epidemiological studies have linked Cesarean delivery with increased rates of asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and obesity. Mode of delivery has also been associated with differences in the infant microbiome. It has been suggested that these differences are attributable to the "bacterial baptism" of vaginal birth, which is bypassed in cesarean deliveries, and that the abnormal establishment of the early-life microbiome is the mediator of later-life adverse outcomes observed in cesarean delivered infants. This has led to the increasingly popular practice of "vaginal seeding": the iatrogenic transfer of vaginal microbiota to the neonate to promote establishment of a "normal" infant microbiome. In this review, we summarize and critically appraise the current evidence for a causal association between Cesarean delivery and neonatal dysbiosis. We suggest that, while Cesarean delivery is certainly associated with alterations in the infant microbiome, the lack of exposure to vaginal microbiota is unlikely to be a major contributing factor. Instead, it is likely that indication for Cesarean delivery, intrapartum antibiotic administration, absence of labor, differences in breastfeeding behaviors, maternal obesity, and gestational age are major drivers of the Cesarean delivery microbial phenotype. We, therefore, call into question the rationale for "vaginal seeding" and support calls for the halting of this practice until robust evidence of need, efficacy, and safety is available.




Stinson, L. F., Payne, M. S., & Keelan, J. A. (2018, May 1). A critical review of the bacterial baptism hypothesis and the impact of cesarean delivery on the infant microbiome. Frontiers in Medicine. Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2018.00135

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