An increasing number of new mums are requesting a potentially harmful birth trend for babies born via caesarean, doctors have warned.
The trend called "vaginal seeding", which involves newborns being swabbed with fluid from their mother's vagina, could be putting babies at increased risk of serious bacterial infections such as sepsis.
Some mothers believe "seeding" will help build immunity to infections, allergies and health conditions, but medical experts writing in the British Medical Journal have said there is no evidence to back up this claim.
Dr Aubrey Cunnington from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London and lead author of the BMJ article, believes women are not aware of professional guidance about the procedure.
There has been no evidence to back up the benefits of this trend
"Demand for this process has increased among women attending hospitals in the UK," he wrote in the article.
"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."
According to the BMJ article the trend - which is also known as 'microbirthing' - started in Australia.
Dr Cunnington explained that often the mother's partner will undertake the swabbing process to transfer the maternal vaginal fluid onto an infant, but in some cases parents have asked medical staff to perform the procedure.
He said there is a potential risk of transferring harmful bacteria, such as group B streptococcus, to the baby via the swab.
Although this is the same bacteria a baby would be exposed to during a vaginal birth, Dr Cunnington says midwives and medical staff would not realise a baby born by caesarean had been exposed to this bacteria if they became ill.
Commenting on vaginal seeding, Michelle Lynne, education advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said women need to be aware of the potential dangers.
"Whilst this is about women’s choice, we are not aware of any strong evidence base for seeding," she told The Huffington Post UK.
"Midwives are therefore not in a position to recommend or encourage the practice.
"The procedure is not one that is present in any standards or guidance that midwives and other health professionals must adhere to.
"As a result this is not a procedure that midwives will perform or advocate."
Regarding research into this trend, Dr Cunningham mentioned there is only one ongoing study into vaginal seeding, which is looking at whether the practice can change a baby’s gut microbiome - the microorganisms in their gut. The findings have not yet been released.
"Encouraging breastfeeding and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics may be more important to a baby’s gut bacteria than worrying about transferring vaginal fluid on a swab," the BMJ article states.
"We have advised staff at our hospitals not to perform vaginal seeding, because we believe the small risk of harm cannot be justified without evidence of benefit."