Are emergency C-sections better for babies than planned C-sections?

For years, controversy has raged over whether being born by C-section is bad for a baby’s health.

Now, a new study in Scotland has come up with an interesting finding: it could depend on the type of C-section.

The University of Aberdeen study looked at the long-term health of more than 300,000 children. It found that those born by planned caesarean had more health problems than those born by emergency caesarean. The suggestion is that labour has some benefit for babies, even if it is cut short.

Overall, the differences weren’t big. But the study did find that babies born by planned C-section had a 35 per cent higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes than babies born by emergency C-section.

As well, babies born by planned C-section were 22 per cent more likely to be hospitalised with asthma than babies born vaginally. However, there weren’t significant differences between the types of birth when it came to obesity, cancer and irritable bowel disease.

The obstetrician who led the study, Dr Mairead Black, says with the caesarean rate increasing worldwide, researchers had wondered if babies born by c-section were "missing out" on anything.

"Our thinking was: If a baby is born naturally, it comes into contact with bacteria from the mother, which might help with immune system development," she explains.

Dr Josef Neu, a neonatologist from the University of Florida, says during labour, a newborn absorbs maternal microbes into its mouth and gastrointestinal tract. He says the theory is that maternal microbes “train” the baby’s immune system, so it doesn’t overreact or become destructive and precipitate autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes.

Here's a video showing a caesarean birth. Post continues after video...

Video via The Doctors
But Professor Steve Robson, Vice President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, is cautious about the findings.

"The message here is, interesting, definitely needs further study," he told The Motherish.

He says even the researchers say more investigation is needed. "What they've said is there are definitely differences you can see here and it could be that there is some fundamental difference but it could also be some underlying factor.

"There are reasons for us to look closely at this association. There is no reason for women to be alarmed."

Professor Robson points to a recent Australian study showing no differences between the health of children born vaginally and those born by caesarean.

He says obstetricians always worry about women looking at studies like this and deciding they don't want a caesarean birth, when it's clear they're putting themselves or their babies at risk by trying to go ahead with a vaginal birth.

"At the end of the day, the message is, no matter what you do, discuss it very carefully and base your decision on what’s the right thing for you and your baby in your circumstances."

Could this research affect your attitude towards C-sections?