Studies have consistently shown that babies born via cesarean section have higher risks for health issues such as obesity and asthma than babies born via vaginal birth. But as it turns out, not all C-sections are equal when it comes to the future health of a baby. A new study took a look at C-sections performed under various circumstances and found a difference in the health risks associated with planned cesareans versus those that occurred after an unsuccessful labor.
The study, which was conducted by Scottish researchers at the University of Aberdeen, found that babies who were born via a scheduled C-section had a higher risk for both asthma and Type 1 diabetes than their peers who were born via emergency C-section after labor.
The major difference between a planned and an emergency or unscheduled C-section is whether or not the mother experiences any labor before the procedure takes place. With a planned Cesarean, the surgery is scheduled for a set date and time and the mother most likely does not go into labor at all beforehand. Emergency C-sections, on the other hand, occur after the mother has gone into labor that has either stalled or would be detrimental to the mother or baby to continue.
Prior to this study, obstetricians thought that planned C-sections were safer and healthier for both moms and babies because the surgery was taking place under controlled conditions. But the study’s results turn that thinking on its head, showing that even a little bit of labor is better than none when it comes to a baby’s future health.
The research team looked at the birth information and long-term health data of 321,287 babies born in Scotland over a 15-year period. Overall, the differences in health risks associated with planned versus unplanned C-section were small, but they were statistically significant. For instance, while all babies born via cesarean were more likely to be diagnosed with asthma by the age of five, researchers noted that 10.3 percent of planned C-section babies used an inhaler compared with 10.1 percent of babies born via an unscheduled C-section. A similar slight but significant statistical difference was noted in cases of Type 1 diabetes.
So why would an unplanned surgical procedure be healthier for babies than a scheduled one? Researchers think that the baby’s exposure to even a small amount of the physiological changes that take place during labor may help the baby adjust better to life outside the womb. Another possibility? The spectrum of antibiotics prescribed to a mother before a planned C-section might be transmitted to the baby, disrupting the baby’s immune system development.
The reason for the difference is certain to be the topic of future studies. In the meantime, it’s another factor for both soon-to-be mothers and their health care providers to think about when preparing for birth.