According to a new study, infants born via Cesarean section as opposed to vaginal birth, may experience epigenetic changes. Epigenetics are factors that can influence genetics. Basically, epigenetic changes have the ability to switch genes on or off and determine which proteins are transcribed. This could spell trouble for little ones born by C-section as the new research found higher rates of methylation in stem cells from babies delivered by by Cesarean. Methylation of DNA is a key player in whether or not genes are expressed within a cell and may affect the immune system for the long-term. Professor Tomas Ekstrom notes, “During a vaginal delivery, the fetus is exposed to an increased level of stress, which in a positive way will prepare the unborn baby for life outside the uterus. This activation of the fetus’ defense systems doesn’t occur when a cesarean section is performed before labor begins, which in turn could be a possible cause for the noticed differences between the groups.” The epigenetic changes may predispose a newborn to certain diseases later in life such as cancer, asthma and diabetes. However, this study was extremely small and as Ekstrom points out, epigenetic changes can be temporary or permanent. So far, without further research, no one is quite sure of the specific negative effects epigenetic changes may have on newborns, but it’s good information to have when considering issues such as elective C-sections. If you can have a vaginal birth, by all means do. C-sections are already associated with many other complications, including infection, heavy blood loss, clots, bowel problems, organ injury and once in a while death for mothers, while infants can experience injury, immature lungs and breathing problems.

+ Cesarean delivery and hematopoietic stem cell epigenetics in the newborn infant: implications for future health?

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