Babies born from caesarean delivery are slower to develop helpful gut bacteria, and develop a higher quantity of “bad” bacteria than babies delivered through vaginal birth, a new study suggests. The gut microbiomes of the caesarean babies differed in ways that could potentially make them more vulnerable to respiratory infections, although the differences declined with age, according to The Guardian.
Prior research had indicated a difference in microbe populations, but some scientists suggested it might be due to more mothers with caesarean sections needing antibiotics. The new study points to a direct link with the delivery method itself.
The research will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Amsterdam.
Scientists analyzed the microbial content of stool samples over the course of a year from 46 caesarean section babies and from 74 babies born by vaginal delivery. The researchers ensured that antibiotics were only given to mothers after birth, to make sure babies were not exposed, in order to clarify whether or not their use was affecting the gut microbiome of the babies.
“We feel that it is proved that mode of delivery is an important driver or modifier of the gut microbiome in young infants,” said one of the researchers, University of Edinburgh professor Debby Bogaert.
The researchers also said the babies with more harmful gut bacteria were more likely to develop respiratory infections in their first year of life.
Another study set to be presented at the conference showed that the makeup of the gut microbiome affects the likelihood of babies becoming overweight as children. But that study did not clearly establish cause and effect or whether it could be the result of the mode of delivery itself.
According to King’s College London genetic epidemiology professor Tim Spector:
“One study has confirmed large cross-sectional studies about C-section causing immune problems later in life with an increased risk of infections and the other showing that the very first microbes of a baby, which often come from the mum, increase the risk of obesity. We need to take gut health more seriously when dealing with babies if we are to improve their health later in life.”
Last year in November, a study showed that specific gut bacteria are passed from mother to child during natural vaginal birth, and that these bacteria stimulate the baby’s immune system. It also established that this transmission is affected by caesarean sections. That study’s lead author, Associate Professor Paul Wilmes, said:
“This may explain why, epidemiologically speaking, caesarean-born children suffer more frequently from chronic, immune system-linked diseases compared to babies born vaginally.”