An increasing number of women deliver their babies by Cesarean section (C-section). While C-sections have always been used to deliver babies in the event of delivery complications that threaten the lives of the mother or baby, an increasing number of mothers are electing to deliver their babies by C-section rather than through vaginal delivery. While the complications that can result from such major abdominal surgery are well-known, less well-known is the effect that C-section delivery can have on a baby. New research has indicated that children delivered by C-section may face an increased risk of obesity later in life.
Nearly a third of all babies born in the United States are now delivered by C-section. In many cases the C-section is elective, due to women who want to schedule their baby’s date of birth or who want to avoid the pain that they associate with delivering a baby vaginally.
Research performed on mice looked at the effect on the microbiomes of mice that were delivered vaginally versus those delivered by C-section. Those mice delivered by C-section had markedly different bacterial profiles than those delivered vaginally. The mice delivered vaginally had bacteria that were associated with a leaner body type. The mice delivered by C-section ended up gaining significantly more weight in the weeks after delivery than those delivered vaginally. They also showed stagnant growth in the development of their microbiome versus those mice born vaginally.
Previous work looking at human babies born vaginally versus those delivered by C-section has shown that babies delivered vaginally develop bacteria in their microbiome that mirror those of their mothers, including the gut bacteria necessary to digest breast milk. Babies delivered by C-section, however, don’t receive the same bacteria, as they don’t pick up bacteria on their way through the birth canal. Analysis of their fecal bacteria shows that their gut bacteria populations mirror bacteria found on skin or in the air of hospital surgery rooms. That can affect their ability to feed and digest food, similar to the effects seen on babies exposed to antibiotics during delivery.
It appears then that the same short-term effects occur in both mouse and human babies that are delivered by C-section. More research needs to be done to analyze the effects of C-section birth over the long term, but in the meantime it would behoove expectant mothers to be aware of the potential health effects on their babies of C-section delivery.