AARHUS, Denmark — New research warns that babies born via Caesarean may be more likely to develop dangerous infections later in childhood. The study claims that children under the age of five who were born by C-section have higher rates of hospitalization due to infection than children of the same age born via natural delivery.
Researchers consider this to be due to a lack of exposure to bacteria from the mother during a vaginal delivery. While babies can interact with similar bacteria during breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, there does seem to be a numerical correlation between these two statistics.
“During vaginal birth, the baby comes into contact with normal bacteria from the mother’s gut and vagina. Babies born by Caesarean section have much less exposure to these bacteria.” says Lars Pedersen, study co-lead author and professor at Aarhus University, per South West News Service.
The research seeks to understand why infection is the leading cause of early childhood hospitalization as well if a Caesarean birth is linked with higher risk of any infection or only certain types of infection. The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, also compares the different risks associated with emergency C-section and pre-planned ones.
“Because infection was the leading cause of children being admitted to hospital, any measures to reduce infection rates would make a measurable and lasting difference to the overall health of populations,” explains lead study author Dr. Jessica Miller, of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), Australia, said:
The study examined 7.2 million patients from Australia, Denmark, Scotland, and England. Nearly 25% were born by Caesarean and 57% were born by emergency C-section. 1.5 million of the children in the study were hospitalized with an infection before the age of 5.
“About 14,000 of these infections may be attributed to being born by emergency Caesarean and 18,500 to pre-labour Caesarean,” says Miller, with the highest risks being respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other viral infections. Other risks associated with C-section births are asthma, allergy, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
“Differences in microbial exposure due to birth mode, which can persist for months or possibly years, may contribute to the increased risk of infection-related hospitalization following a Caesarean birth. Our microbiomes can affect the development of postnatal immune responses, including to infection. The microbiome can also be optimized by postnatal factors, such as breast-feeding and early skin-to-skin contact after birth,” says co-lead study author Professor David Burgner, of MCRI.
Although the study did show a small increased risk of childhood infections, sometimes C-sections are the safest option for both mothers and their babies. Surprisingly, Caesarean rates have doubled globally since 2000 with about 6.2 million non-medically indicated procedures performed each year. The new findings will have an impact on clinical practice and public health policy.
“Infection is the leading cause of early childhood hospitalization and these findings should lead to studies to understand the mechanisms, including the effects of birth mode on immune development, and whether simple interventions, such as increasing breastfeeding rates, can offset any increased risks,” adds Burgner. It will be important to investigate whether similar findings are seen in low and middle income countries, where the burden of childhood infection is likely to be much higher.”
Researchers from the University of Melbourne, University of Oxford, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Sydney, NHS National Services Scotland, and the University of Western Australia also contributed to the study.
SWNS writer Laura Sharman contributed to this report.