Study says C-sections with a little labour are better for your baby's long-term health

The research, conducted over a 15-year-long period, tracked the long-term health of all full-term firstborn births in Scotland. Data indicated more health problems among babies born via planned C-section rather than those delivered by emergency C-section...

We've heard it many times: babies born via caesarian section are more likely to develop health problems than those born vaginally.

Studies have consistently found that children born by C-section are at higher risk for health problems like obesityallergies and Type 1 diabetes. 

Now, results from one of the largest and longest studies on planned C-sections published in JAMA this month, imply that there is a way to make C-sections less risky in terms of babies' long-term health.

The study

Over a 15-year period, the long-term health of all full-term firstborn births in Scotland, was tracked. Interestingly, the data indicated more health problems among babies born via planned C-section rather than those delivered by emergency C-section.

What does this suggest? That the difficult but exhilarating process of natural labour "may give children a healthy start, even when it’s interrupted by a surgical birth."

Dr. Mairead Black, the University of Aberdeen obstetrician who led the study, said that these findings led her team to wonder what, if anything, babies born via C-section were not getting that babies born vaginally were.

She said, “Our thinking was: If a baby is born naturally, it comes into contact with bacteria from the mother, which might help with immune system development.”

So, with this in mind, attempted labour — even if interrupted by a C-section — may still provide that exposure to a mum's "good" bacteria. But in contrast, a baby born by scheduled C-section misses out on this dose of bacteria.

Dr. Joseph Neu, a neonatologist at the University of Florida Neu, adds that "the broad-spectrum antibiotics prescribed to the mother before a surgical delivery were another concern; the antibiotics can be transmitted to the baby through breast milk if not before birth, decreasing the diversity of natural bacteria."

Meanwhile, Carol Sakala, the director of US-based nonprofit Childbirth Connection programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families says:

“When you don’t wait for labor to begin on its own, you cut short all kinds of physiological changes and preparations for birth that are taking place toward the end of pregnancy.

"What is the effect of cutting off those processes so casually on such a large scale?”

Health implications

The results of the study indicate that, "the biggest difference between babies born by scheduled and unscheduled C-section appeared in risk for Type 1 diabetes" -- babies born by planned C-section had a 35 percent higher risk of Type 1 diabetes compared with babies born by emergency C-section.

What's more:

"All of the babies born by C-section were slightly more likely to use an asthma inhaler at age 5: 10.3 percent of planned C-section babies and 10.19 percent of unscheduled C-section babies wound up using an inhaler, compared with 9.6 percent of vaginally born babies.

"Asthma hospitalization rates were also higher for babies born by planned C-section with a statistically significant increase of 22 percent over vaginally born babies."

With these findings (and even before these findings!), medical experts are urging providers to avoid unecessary C-sections and allow women to spend more time in labour as much as possible.

These research findings have implications in Singapore too, where "an estimated 40-45 per cent of births are delivered through C-sections, compared to 10-15 per cent in the early 1990s" according to a Channel NewsAsia report.

However, could there be a solution to this issue — especially where a scheduled C-section is crucial for the protection of the mother's or child's life — in a process known as 'vaginal seeding'?

Read this theAsianparent article for more on the fascinating birth trend that is vaginal seeding.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this article — do leave a comment below.