Caesarian section (C-section) deliveries are among the most frequent operations conducted on women of child-bearing age. Canada’s C-section rate has risen dramatically in the past 25 years. The C-section rate in Canada has grown from 17% of all births in 1995 to nearly 27% in 2010. In Ontario, approximately 29% of births in 2011 were by C-section, with a similar rate in Alberta of 28% in 2009. While C-sections are often the best approach to ensuring healthy outcomes for both mother and baby in high-risk pregnancies or complicated deliveries, rates are rising among women with low-risk pregnancies. Recent research has uncovered that C-section newborns have an increased chance of some chronic health problems later in life.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that C-section infants are more prone to develop obesity, asthma, and type 1 diabetes in later life. Other studies have found an increased risk of other autoimmune diseases including Crohns Disease and MS as well as other allergic conditions such as allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis.
Scientists speculate that the reason c-section babies are more prone to future illness lies in the health of their friendly bacteria. While in the mother’s womb, the unborn fetus’s intestines is completely sterile and contains no friendly bacteria (known as the microbiota). When a baby is born naturally through the vagina, it is exposed to the vaginal fluid, which contains bacteria from the microbiota of the mother. During c-sections, newborn are taken from the sterile womb to the operating room which although partially pure will still contain microbes from the attending doctors and nurses. The difference between a vaginal birth and a c-section concerning the microbiota is biodiversity. C-section babies have been shown to have a low biological diversity, and substantial evidence suggests that the first composition of the microbiota of newborn plays a significant role in the early development of the immune system.
Restoring c-section microbiota
Before writing this blog, I considered a possible solution to this problem might be for the surgeon to expose the c-section baby manually to the mother’s vaginal fluid. In fact, early this year, researchers presented preliminary data showing that the microbiota of newborn could be partially restored when they were swabbed with a sample of their mother’s vaginal fluid immediately after birth. The initial findings of this study are encouraging, but the effectiveness of this approach needs much more study for it to be standard medical practice.
If a c-section is not a medical necessity to ensure the life of the baby and mum, then the research indicates avoidance. If a c-section is necessary then consider the following tips to help maximise the baby’s gut health:
- Breastfeed as soon as possible after birth.
- Avoid weaning onto solids as long as possible to ensure the readiness of the baby’s gut.
- Avoid antibiotics unless medically necessary. Antibiotics unbalance the microbiota. If antibiotics are necessary, consider using a probiotic in conjunction with the drug treatment to help maintain gut integrity.
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This article in not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.