Recent research points to childbirth method as a predictor for the kind of bacteria a newborn first has in his or her body. Authors of a new study believe that a baby's contact with the mother's bacteria during a vaginal delivery may act as a protector against some diseases:

"Human microbial communities play an important role in digestion and immune health and are believed to collectively endow us with the essential traits we rely on for such functions, according to the research team. One possibility is that the direct transmission of a mother's vaginal bacteria onto newborns may act as a defense against diseases by limiting the colonization of more harmful pathogens."

The rising Caesarean delivery (C-section) rate in the past two decades could possibly be the reason for such findings. The C-section rate in the United States is now 32 percent, far more than the 10-15 percent historically recommended by the World Health Organization.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, medical reasons for performing a C-section include:

  • Baby's heart rate indicating decreased oxygen supply
  • Baby in wrong position
  • Problems with the umbilical cord
  • Birth of multiples (twins, triplets, etc)

A 2007 article in The Washington Post explored the factors causing dramatic increase in C-sections from 1997 to 2007. Reasons for performing elective C-sections included:

  • Convenience for doctors
  • Preference of mothers to have a scheduled birth
  • Rapid method of childbirth that C-sections offer
  • Hospital, doctor, and insurance resistance to allowing VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section)

The increase in the number of C-sections has prompted the National Institutes of Health to reconsider its recommendations on birthing methods.

While C-sections can be a necessary and sometimes life-saving procedure for mothers and babies, the wide use of them as an elective is of concern to some health organizations. The procedure is considered major surgery.

Risks include:

In newborns:

  • Higher risk of infection
  • Possible respiratory problems
  • Higher risk for asthma

In moms:

  • Uterine rupture
  • Increased risk for hysterectomy

In the research article abstract, the authors of the study believe that the work is significant enough to set a baseline for further research that would follow the health and development of babies after birth for both vaginal deliveries and C-sections. The medical ethics of performing elective C-sections have been debated before. In light of this study that offers new evidence of the health benefits of vaginal delivery, it will be interesting to see what kind of response, if any, is to be expected from the medical community, and whether future studies will address the issue.

What do you think? Should Cesearean delivery, like home birth, be an issue of birthing choice for women? Or only performed in case of medical necessity?

Interesting reading and additional resources: