C-section rates have skyrocketed in the past few decades, and now account for nearly one in every three births in the United States (not to mention up to 50% of births in other countries). Numerous studies have measured if babies born via C-section are at higher risk for certain childhood or lifelong illnesses, and practices such as “seeding,” in which newborns get swabbed with healthy bacteria from the mother’s birth canal, aim to provide babies with the beneficial bacteria many researchers and physicians believe may help with immune system development. Results from a new study published by the Journal of American Medical Association is leading researchers to believe that perhaps the experience of laboring (even if the baby ends up being born via C-section) may help improve health outcomes by activating the body to prepare for birth, a process that may not occur with planned C-sections that do not include any labor at all. The study examined data from more than 320,000 children born in Scotland and found that the children born as a result of planned C-sections had higher rates of several health issues than children born vaginally or as a result of an emergency, unplanned C-section.
The study found varying degrees of statistical differences for the health issues that were studied. All babies born by C-section were at a slightly higher risk of using an asthma inhaler as compared to babies born by vaginal deliveries. A larger disparity occurred, however, with regard to asthma related hospitalizations: babies born by planned C-section had a 22% higher rate of these hospitalizations than those born vaginally. Babies born by planned C-section were also at a significantly higher risk of Type 1 diabetes than those born by emergency C-section. Cancer and inflammatory bowel disease rates were not found to be affected.
Although C-sections are unavoidable and medically necessary for some mothers and babies, this research indicates that mothers and medical providers should give careful consideration to elective C-sections without medical indications. The rates of these planned C-sections have increased from 3.3% to 5.5% over the past 25 years in America.