For anyone who read the 'bad news' about c-section births this morning: don't panic.

A new study released by the University of Melbourne has sent parents into a panic after it was announced this week that babies born via caesarean are more likely to be developmentally delayed later in life than those delivered via natural birth.

But what does the research actually say and how worried should you really be by it all?

According to the study’s primary researcher, Dr Cain Polidano, the major discovery to come from the research is that Australian babies born via c-section show developmental delays in areas of grammar, numeracy, reading and writing to those babies born via natural births later in life, which sounds scary and can be cause for concern upon first hearing.

In processing this information, though, there are a number important things to take note of.

natural birth versus caesarean
Source: iStock.

The number of people included in the research

Firstly, the findings in the study come from analysing the NAPLAN results of 5,000 students in Year 3. And in terms of participants used in a study, that's a large number, but it's also an iota of the 19 per cent of Australians that are aged between 0 to 14. Polidano best explained this when he told the ABC, "The findings are relatively small but significant."

The greatness of the gap

Upon hearing the words 'c-section' and 'developmental delays' it's understandable that panic would set in. But before you start worrying about the future of your child and look into hiring a private tutor, know this: the delay measured between vaginal born and caesarian babies was the equivalent of 35 school days' worth - a month - of education.

And while that's nothing to scoff at, it's also a separation that can be managed relatively easily and has the potential to be bridged in later years.

The finality of the research

Like most research, the findings from this study are ongoing, with Polidano himself admitting, "We've still got a lot more work to do".


At this stage, he said, the link between caesarian-born babies and developmental delays is "only correlational".

"It's very difficult to establish causation because you can't do randomised controlled trials which is the gold standard [of testing initial findings]," he said.

Polidano explained, "We've gone some way down the path of trying to establish causal relationships, we've still got a lot more work to do."

The importance of the home environment

Reading with your children, engaging in cognitive games and activities from an early age and building their learning skills at home will all help in your child's development, irrespective of how they were born - something Polidano says should be at the forefront of parents' minds.

"The home environment still trumps any mode of delivery," he said.

natural birth versus caesarean
Source: iStock.

Some women don't have a choice

"Our message is really for mums who are thinking about a planned caesarian, that they should err on the side of caution and take into account these risks, but for women who, for health reasons, can't have a vaginal birth and have to have a c-section, then they should not feel guilty at all," Polidano said on Thursday.

"The last thing we want to happen would be for mums to feel guilty about not being able to have a vaginal delivery, or even worse that they would risk putting their own lives at stake for the sake of their future child's NAPLAN scores. We don't want that," he summarised.

Listen: Rebecca Judd talks about her natural birth and caesarian birth experiences on Hello Bump.