Could the Way You Were Born Affect Your Life-Long Health?

Last Update: November 20, 2023

Although a C-section is invasive, sometimes the procedure is the safest option for mom and baby. In particular, doctors rely on C-sections for certain high-risk pregnancies, or when complications arise during labor. But a new study out of New York University takes a closer look at why delivering via C-section might not be the best thing for infants long-term.

Babies born surgically are five times more likely to develop food and environmental allergies, 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and have a significantly increased risk of immune deficiencies that have some scary consequences. And researchers at NYU believe that these health issues might have something to do with infants’ gut bacteria.

When born vaginally, babies pass through the birth canal and get exposed to their mother’s naturally occurring bacteria. This essentially kick-starts the creation of their own gut flora. Healthy gut microbiota is necessary for a functioning immune system and robust digestive system. But because C-section babies never go through the birth canal, they’re not exposed to their mothers’ bacteria. The study authors think that this vital inoculation period that’s missed in the first few minutes of life could set those babies up for years of immunological issues.

In a small pilot group, scientists swabbed four C-section babies with bacteria from their mothers within two minutes of birth. After 11 months, they compared the gut bacteria of the subjects to that of babies born vaginally and found that their flora looked very similar. The swabbed babies carried Lactobacillus and Bacteroides, strains that are thought to play a role in training the immune system and that are nearly nonexistent in untreated C-section babies.

Based off of these findings, a larger study is set to begin soon. Researchers are hoping that instead of simply finding a correlation between gut bacteria and immune disorders in C-section deliveries, it will prove causation between the two. If so, it only further proves how important our gut bacteria is at protecting and maintaining our overall health.

Photo credit: Alison Winterroth via Stocksy

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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