Research published in the British Medical Journal has found that newborns who are delivered by Caesarean section are more likely to develop obesity, asthma, and type 1 diabetes as they get older.
Approximately one-third of US babies are delivered by c-section, writes Amy Kraft of CBS News. Dr. Jan Blustein of New York University’s School of Medicine and Dr. Jianmen Liu of Peking University gathered 20 studies that made the link between c-sections to type 1 diabetes, 23 that linked c-sections to asthma, and nine that made an association to obesity.
The question then became whether the c-section causes the disease or whether there other factors involved. Being sure of the answer takes many years of research, but Dr. Blustein says that decisions still have to be made based on the evidence that exists, and for her that means believing that a cesarean can possibly cause chronic health problems for children.
Blustein told CBS News, “People have always known the consequences of vaginal delivery — brain damage, cerebral palsy, shoulder dystocia — but there is not much discussion of the long-term downsides of cesarean delivery.”
Both Blustein and Liu believe that the newly found risks should be included in clinical guidelines for doctors and midwives. They acknowledge that caesareans are sometimes necessary when there is a medical emergency.
“In emergencies, or when a fetal or maternal indication is present, the choice is clear. But in cooler moments, such as repeat or maternal choice of cesarean, it makes sense to consider the risks and benefits,” they write.
The CDC’s data in 2013 showed that 32% of pregnant women in the US deliver by c-section, which is notably higher than the World Health Organization’s target of 10- to 15% for medically necessary caesareans.
“It takes a while for research findings to reach clinicians and patients,” Blustein said. “This research isn’t widely known. It is time for that to change, so that doctors, midwives and patients can weigh the risks and benefits of elective cesarean, and decide accordingly.”
Of the six randomized trials done on c-section deliveries in healthy births, it was found that a greater portion of c-section babies at the age of two showed more medical problems than those delivered vaginally (20.8% vs. 14.8%). The problems included upper respiratory irregularities, gastrointestinal issues, ear, skin, and allergic situations, reports Molly Walker for MedPage Today.
Although caesarean delivery by choice is rare in the US — about 2.5% — it is more common in other regions such as southeast China, with 20% in 2006. Many US mothers who have had previous c-sections are able medically to deliver vaginally. Still, fewer than 10% of births to women who have had a c-section are vaginal deliveries, says Dr. Jan Blustein in an article for The Conversation.
The reason that c-sections result in medical problems for children might be because vaginal birth mothers pass “good” bacteria to the newborn, which is important to food uptake and fighting infections. In vaginal births, babies swallow maternal vaginal bacteria which are some of the first necessary bacteria in the baby’s intestines.
Another theory is that hormones released during vaginal delivery may help minimize newborns’ risk of chronic diseases, reports Israel’s Daily Times Gazette.