In 1965, the rate of Cesarean 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 was cut out of the Mother’s belly. The procedure is considered major abdominal surgery requiring weeks of convalescence. This instead of being born the simple way nature intended? A vaginal birth 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 Cesareans 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.
Dangers of Cesarean Birth
When a baby is born vaginally, exposure to the probiotics in the birth canal helps to colonize the baby’s intestines. This “seeds” the developing immune system for a lifetime of health. 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”) Cesareans 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. Immediate breastfeeding also is beneficial. Human breastmilk and colostrum “first” milk contain an abundance of these friendly bacterial strains to seed the gut properly.
Formula Feeding and Cesarean a Double Whammy to a Child’s Health
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. In those situations, a homemade formula is critical as this provides probiotics and enzymes with every feeding much like nursing would. Note that donated breastmilk is almost always pasteurized and so does not confer this benefit.
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” Cesarean birth is thought to be related to these DNA changes. This experience has 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 Cesarean
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 understand how to induce labor naturally and avoid epidurals as much as possible. Each of these interventions increases a woman’s odds of a Cesarean birth. Note: I realize there are some studies indicating that epidurals do not increase C-section risk. However, the studies 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
Good article, natural is the way to go, when possible. I would not be here if it were not for c-sections. Back when I was born, c-sections were rare here in the US. I’m talking a rate of under 5%. My mom labored for 36 hours, all natural, no induction, epidural, but she never got past dilated past a 6. She was 4’11”, small pelvis, petite, did not want a c-section, but her OB said, it is either c-section or you will endanger your child’s life, your too, he is just not going to fit. I’m born via an emergency c-section, 9 lb 15 oz with a huge head, I grew to 6’3″ and 200 lbs. Big babies and small moms don’t mix. She had 2 failed vbacs after me, my brothers were not as large but still, pelvis did not cooperate. My 2 children were born via emergency c-sections after failed vaginal deliveries. My son was breached, distressed, and the OB said I will not deliver a breached baby, I never learned how. We changed OB’s, this one was pro-vbac and all about vaginal deliveries, however we had the same result, my daughter was a failed vbac, we almost lost her too, wife was fully dilated, her pelvis is narrow. labored for 30 hours, pushed for 2.5 hours but my daughter’s head didn’t fit. She got very distressed, heartbeat tanked many times, we had a team of RN’s and the MD rush over, I made the decision that she was to be born via emergency c-section. She arrived unresponsive, would not breathe for over 2 minutes, temperature was low, took a skilled pediatric team for her to get to it. The OB said had we waited / kept trying for a natural birth, we may have lost our daughter, the OB was willing allow my wife to try for a little longer but said maybe a few more pushes but I am concerned for your baby. I passed on my large head and height to my children.
I was 25 days past due date and induced twice before emergency C-section. I did not dialate but actually closed. If I had actually labored either my son, I or both could have died. My son would have broken his neck due to his position.
I had am emergency c-section with Daniel he was under too much stress when I was trying to deliver and I did not get to see him right away I had gone without pain medicine till my surgery (trying to do it the all natural way) and by the time he was out the drugs had made me fall asleep so when I became pregnant with Maraya I didn’t want to be exhausted from labor and end up in the same situation and I didn’t. I was holding and breastfeeding Maraya within 10 minutes and I will never regret my choice to have a scheduled c-section with her and if I would have know what it would be like to try natural with Daniel I would have chose a scheduled one instead of the emergency c-section. I know there are lots of reasons why c-sections are done so much more frequently including the rise in STD’s that can be transferred to the child while passing through the birth canal. I think that most do out not because they think it’s easier but because it’s what’s best. Neither of my children are more prone to infection. They have only been on antibiotics a few times in their lives and that was for ear infections.
Thanks for this article. I had a long, extremely difficult labor with my daughter due to malpositioning. Fortunately I had chosen my caregivers and birth environment carefully – midwives in a freestanding birth center. If I’d been in a hospital, there’s little doubt I would have ended up with a C-section due to my slow progress (it took almost 8 hours for me to dilate from 6 to 8 cm) and the 5.5 hours it took for me to push my baby out. Despite the fact that I got my vaginal, completely natural birth, I suffered some emotional trauma from the extreme, non-stop pain I experienced for the last 7 hours of my labor. I knew vaginal birth was “better” for babies, but this article has given me some concrete information that really helps me feel like everything I went through was worth it.