29 February 2016

Giving birth naturally lowers risk of diseases

Did you know that in 2014/2015, close to a third of all births in England were by C-section?

Data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows that in English hospitals, 26% of all deliveries in NHS hospitals were by C-section, an increase by 0.3% when compared with last year’s statistics.

And this increase also occurs elsewhere; an Expert Review published in 2013 reported that the rate of C-sections in the US was 32%, 40% in China, and 46% in Brazil. However, the World Health Organization advises that C-section deliveries may be indicated in 15% of deliveries only.

This means that so many unnecessary C-sections are carried out every year throughout the modern world - sometimes by convenience, sometimes because of misinformation e.g. risk of  vaginal birth after a first delivery by C-section.

WHO advises C-section may be indicated in up to 15% of deliveries, but NHS stats amount to 26% – Do you want to tweet this?

Although risks and fears associated with natural birth are an endless list of scary stories for mum-to-be, the risks associated with C-section delivery are an equally long list of scary stories for baby – but it seems that parents who request elective C-section are not made aware of these risks.

During natural delivery, the contact between baby and mum’s vaginal flora is an essential source for the start of baby’s gut colonization. Not only these start-up germs are responsible for the development of baby’s immune system but by being born naturally (or at least breaking waters), the baby receives his mum’s signals about how to modulate his developing immune system (more about this here).


mother protecting child

Unfortunately, many studies focusing on the differences in gut flora in infants born naturally and by C-section observed that differences can occur until at least 7 years after delivery.
While the baby born through natural path is colonized predominantly by Lactobacillus, C-section babies are colonized by potentially bad germs typically found in hospitals and on the skin such as Staphylococcus and Acinetobacter.

The long-term consequences of not being colonized by the right germs via natural birth include differences in essential regulatory immune markers in babies’ blood. This lack of markers is consequently linked to an increased risk of developing diseases associated with immune regulation (auto-immunity).

Although some degree of contradiction exist between studies, talks surround:
  • Increased risk of developing asthma (20% increased risk)
  • Increased risk of developing allergies (e.g. allergic rhinitis, food allergies)
  • Increased risk of developing Type I Diabetes (19% increased risk)
  • Increased risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases (e.g. gastroenteritis, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease in pre-terms)
  • Increased risk for skeletal disease
  • Increased risk in childhood cancer (e.g. leukaemia, neuroblastoma, testicular cancer)
If these risks are related to C-section delivery only or in addition to risks associated with the unavoidable antibiotics that are used during C-section is still to be determined.

Have you delivered your baby/children by C-section, by choice or for medical reason? Would you smear your baby’s head with vaginal secretions if you had to do it again?

If you would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to leave me a comment, I’d love to read them.

The information contained in this article has been compiled from these two papers: 1. Cho C, Norman M. Cesarean section and development of the immune system in the offspring. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2013; April: 249-254. 2. Neu J, Rushing J. Cesarean versus vaginal delivery: Long term infant outcomes and the hygiene hypothesis. Clinics in Perinatology 2011; 38: 321-331.

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