Caesareans Harm Babies’ Long Term Health

by Sarah Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & ChildComments: 28

In 1965, the rate of Caesarean Section (C-section) in the United States was 4.5%.    In 2007, it was 31.8%.     If that rate of increase isn’t shocking enough, a friend of mine who lives in Sarasota County FL, one of the wealthiest counties in the entire state, told me that the C-Section rate for that community currently stands at 46%!

How can this be?  Nearly 1 in 2 babies born in Sarasota County FL was cut out of the Mother’s belly via major abdominal surgery requiring weeks of convalescence instead of being born the simple, vaginal way nature intended where Mom can literally get out of bed minutes after birth and take a shower!

How did this happen?   It seems in a growing number of cases, elective Caesareans have become the norm.  While C-section is a lifesaving procedure in some cases, using it to more conveniently schedule a birth is a decision fraught with potentially lifelong complications for the baby.

When a baby is born vaginally, exposure to the Mother’s friendly bacteria in the birth canal helps to colonize the baby’s intestines, seeding the developing immune system.  Babies born via emergency C-section especially if the bag of waters has already broken with labor underway for some time, do get at least some exposure to these helpful flora before surgical birth.

Elective (i.e., “sterile”) Caesareans where labor never starts provide no such opportunity for exposure.  It is critical that a baby born in this manner get skin to skin contact with the mother immediately after birth and be breastfed.   Human breastmilk and colostrum, “first” milk, contain an abundance of these friendly bacterial strains to seed the gut properly.

Babies born by elective C-section who are formula fed have the greatest risk to health as their guts are seeded with bacteria from the hospital environment, not Mom.

The July 2009 issue of Acta Pediatrica found that babies born by C-section experienced changes to the DNA of their leukocytes (white blood cells).   The extreme stress to babies from a “cold cut” Caesarean birth is thought to be related to these DNA changes that have the potential to forever alter how the immune system responds to stimuli.  Babies born vaginally do not experience such a stress shock.   The vaginal birth process involves a gradual increase in stress response for the baby followed by a gradual decline says Hannah Dahlen, Vice President of the Australian College of Midwives.

This small study could help explain why children born by C-section suffer from a dramatic increase in the rates of diabetes, testicular cancer, leukemia, and asthma among other autoimmune disorders.   Babies born by C-section have a 20% increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes, for example, than children born vaginally.

How to Avoid a Caesarean

It seems clear that protecting your child from developing autoimmune disease begins before labor even starts. Avoiding doctors who prefer elective C-sections and finding an out of the hospital birthing environment with a lay or nurse midwife can reduce a woman’s C-section rate from about 1 in 3 to around 5%.     A hospital birth with a midwife attending has a C-section rate of about 10%.

It is also important to avoid inducing labor and epidurals as much as possible.    Each of these interventions increases a woman’s odds of a Caesarean birth (I realize there are some studies indicating that epidurals do not increase C-section risk, but the studies I have read that demonstrate a link are more compelling, in my opinion).

The health benefits to baby from allowing the birth process to unfold as nature intended reminds me of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.   If you help the butterfly out of the cocoon, it dies.   If you stand back and let it work its way out naturally, it lives.     Same with a chick pecking its way out of an egg.    Helping the chick out can make it very sick and even kill it.   Letting it scratch and claw its way out and it lives.

Can’t we humans take our cues from nature?

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

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