Vaginal seeding is the administration of maternal vaginal bacteria to babies following birth by caesarean section (CS), intended to mimic the microbial exposure that occurs during vaginal birth. Appropriate development of the infant gut microbiome assists early immune development and might help reduce the risk of certain health conditions later in life, such as obesity and asthma. We aimed to explore the views of pregnant women on this practice.
We conducted a sequential mixed-methods study on the views of pregnant women in New Zealand (NZ) on vaginal seeding. Phase one: brief semi-structured interviews with pregnant women participating in a clinical trial of vaginal seeding ( n = 15); and phase two: online questionnaire of pregnant women throughout NZ (not in the trial) ( n = 264). Reflexive thematic analysis was applied to interview and open-ended questionnaire data. Closed-ended questionnaire responses were analysed using descriptive statistics.
Six themes were produced through analysis of the open-ended data: “seeding replicates a natural process”, “microbiome is in the media”, “seeding may have potential benefits”, “seeking validation by a maternity caregiver”, “seeding could help reduce CS guilt”, and “the unknowns of seeding”. The idea that vaginal seeding replicates a natural process was suggested by some as an explanation to help overcome any initial negative perceptions of it. Many considered vaginal seeding to have potential benefit for the gut microbiome, while comparatively fewer considered it to be potentially beneficial for specific conditions such as obesity. Just under 30% of questionnaire respondents ( n = 78; 29.5%) had prior knowledge of vaginal seeding, while most ( n = 133; 82.6%) had an initially positive or neutral reaction to it. Few respondents changed their initial views on the practice after reading provided evidence-based information ( n = 60; 22.7%), but of those who did, most became more positive ( n = 51; 86.4%).
Given its apparent acceptability, and if shown to be safe and effective for the prevention of early childhood obesity, vaginal seeding could be a non-stigmatising approach to prevention of this condition among children born by CS. Our findings also highlight the importance of lead maternity carers in NZ remaining current in their knowledge of vaginal seeding research.