Time and time again, the media report on rising numbers of C-section births. Some are performed because the baby is in an adverse position, others because the mother-to-be is afraid of labour pains. There are many reasons for having a caesarean section, and it does have some advantages – but also disadvantages for the child. A “sterile” birth, experts say, may compromise the development of the infant’s immune system, among others.
During natural childbirth, a baby is exposed to a wide variety of bacteria in the birth canal of its mother. A vaginally delivered newborn – so far grown up in a sterile environment – is covered with many healthy bacteria, and these shape his own microflora in the gut and on the skin. This is not the case following a C-section; here, the newborn only comes in contact with the mother’s skin bacteria and acquires a markedly different bacterial community.
Several studies have found that C-section children show increased predisposition to allergies, asthma or diabetes. This is noted by Prof. Frank Louwen of the University Hospital Frankfurt, who is also a board member of the German society for Gynecology and Obstetrics (Deutschen Gesellschaft für Gynäkologie und Geburtshilfe (DGGG)). “During birth, the mother may possibly prepare her child for his new environment. If this was the case, a C-section would deprive the child of something which boosts future health”, the newspaper “Die Welt” quotes him saying.
The paper reports on a study conducted at New York University. Here, scientists placed sterile gauze in the mother’s vagina and used it to swab “mouth and body of the child” immediately after the C-section. Later, they analysed the microbiome on and in the child’s body and compared it to those of vaginally delivered infants, and to those of other C-section infants. The swabbed children were indeed found to have greater natural skin, oral and anal bacterial diversity; not to the same degree of vaginally delivered infants, but significantly higher than other C-section children. This should help to better protect them from diseases later in life.