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Tummy talk: Caesarean babies born with fewer friendly bacteria

Know anyone who has had a C-section? You probably do. The rate of C-sections, or Caesarean deliveries, doubled to 17.2% in India from 2005-15.

Though doctors make a call about doing a vaginal or a C-section delivery on a case-by-case basis, research now shows that Caesarean babies are born with fewer good bacteria in their tummies.

The research

While C-sections are usually done to ensure the mother and her child survive labour, parents often wonder if it has an adverse impact on the child’s health as they grow up. Enter Dr Trever D Lawley, and team.

In a recent paper published in the journal Nature, they have shared a new finding: babies born of a C-section lack important microbes in their gut that could make them prone to health conditions later in life.

The good doctor and his team pointed out that during birth, as the neonate passes through the vagina, it gets some bacteria from the mother that are important for the baby's health. Further, these bacteria go on to form the microbiome of the newborn baby - microbiome is the group of microbes present in a particular environment, in this case, the newborn’s body.

“For obstetricians, the biggest concern in the labour room is the safety of the child and the mother. If the situation demands it, we go for an unplanned C-section to ensure that both survive. Of course, many a time, there are complications that we know of beforehand which necessitate a planned C-section.”, said Dr Archana Nirula, a gynaecologist and obstetrician associated with myUpchar. "This is an interesting finding. It can help future parents care better for their children," she added.

Many prior studies have identified other risks to the health of a child who has been delivered through a C-section, such as higher risk of respiratory problems and iron deficiency due to less blood flow from the placenta to the child.

“There are risks to a Cesarean delivery, sure. However, the biggest risk you can take is to not trust your doctor. In case the child has health problems in the future, they can be addressed,” added Dr Nirula. "The most important consideration is the survival of the mom and baby."

Human microbiome

Our body is full of microbes - for every cell, there are 10 microorganisms. Bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoans habituate your skin, nose, oral cavity, and most abundantly, in the gastrointestinal tract.

While these microorganisms are important in various ways, their importance in building a strong immune system is perhaps the most vital. They teach our body that not every foreign substance that enters the system is bad. Hence, people with a healthy microbiome tend to suffer less from diseases than the people who lack important bacteria.

The details

The team of researchers, from the Sanger Institute, U.K., studied the microbial DNA in the faeces of 596 babies - 314 born vaginally and 282 by C-section - in collaboration with the doctors and midwives of three hospitals in London and Leicester.

Notable differences were observed in the gut microbiota of the groups. While vaginally born babies had a healthy balance of microbes in their gut, babies born of C-section had a higher number of opportunistic pathogens (bacteria that can cause infection in an immunocompromised individual but that are otherwise non-harmful).

Though the babies gained most of the microbiome within a few months of birth, about 60% of the C-section born babies could not balance the bacteroids population. Bacteroids are a specific type of microbe that constitutes approximately 25% of the total gut flora. They are one of the most crucial bacteria that regulate immune development.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. Read our in-depth article on Caesarean delivery for more information.

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