Having a c-section is sometimes mistakenly believed to be the “easier” option compared to the perceived painful and traumatic experience of “pushing a baby out” (news flash! birth doesn't have to be like that!). But a surgical birth is far from easy, and the decision to opt for one is not something that should be taken lightly. Caesarean births are vital in many circumstances (although often avoidable in the cases of unplanned/emergency sections, but I won’t go in to this right now!), and anyone choosing a surgical birth should be allowed to have one, regardless of their reason, but anyone who knows me or has followed me online for a while will know that I’m all about informed choice, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of a c-section and the impact it can have on both mother and baby. A surgical birth is major surgery, has a longer recovery and can have implications for future pregnancies/births, but it’s the effect on the baby that I want to focus on in this post.
When a baby is born vaginally, they pass through the birth canal, and come in to contact with bacteria both from inside the vagina and fecal gut bacteria. This maternal bacteria is ingested by the baby and kick starts their gut health and immune system, building their microbiome. Babies born surgically miss this important dose of bacteria.
A large study carried out by the “baby biome project” found that babies born vaginally had dramatically different gut bacteria compared to those born by Caesarean section. Not only did they miss out on vital bacteria from their mother’s gut, but Caesarean section babies had high levels of hospital bugs such as Klebsiella and Pseudomonas.
Several studies have shown that caesarean birth affects the baby’s microbiome, which in turn can have a negative knock on effect on a number of aspects of health. Studies have shown that babies born surgically are more likely to have health problems later in life such as eczema, asthma, type 1 diabetes, obesity, allergies and food intolerances. There is also research to show that the effect of a surgical birth on a child’s microbiome can affect their mental development and IQ.
Immediate skin to skin after birth, breast feeding, and avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use can all help reduce the potentially damaging effects of a caesarean birth.
Caesarean birth is indeed a wonderful medical development, and wholly necessary in various circumstances, whether that’s a physical/medical reason, or mental health reason, but we need to be ensuring that pregnant people are presented with both the benefits of a surgical birth, and the potential long term risks to a child’s health. Something which may not always be the case. Misconceptions about physiological birth, and the “pain and trauma” need to be dispelled, and support from techniques such as hypnobirthing and good unbiased antenatal classes can go a long way to re-educating parents about what a natural birth can genuinely be like, often removing the desire for a surgical birth chosen based on fear of labour.
To read more, check out the following studies and resources: