C-sec versus vaginally-born babies: which are healthier?

Ah, the eternal debate of which baby is healthier, the one born through a caesarean section or the one delivered naturally. Let’s get the first thing out of the way, shall we? Before medicine, before all the technology and gynaecologists, births have primarily been natural, i.e. vaginally. It’s only recently that more and more babies — in India and abroad — are being delivered through c-section. Whether that’s because of the mother’s choice or the doctor’s (for a “safer” delivery), no one can say with certainty. There is one thing, however, that can be said with surety, and that is that vaginally born babies are better off than their c-sec counterparts. Here’s why:

Risk during the birth

A c-sec is a surgery, and like any other surgery, it comes with substantial risks. One of those risks is that the baby might get nicked by the surgical instrument.

Natural immunity

When a baby passes through the birth canal of a mother during a natural delivery, it “picks up” bacteria that help the baby’s immunity. During pregnancy, the concentration of one such bacteria, called Lactobacillus, increases. This bacteria aids in the digestion of milk. This is just one example. Several such bacteria help the baby fight off infections naturally — an ability that c-section babies miss out on. There are numerous studies that are reporting a connection between gut bacteria in babies and their inability to fight off asthma, obesity and celiac disease later in life if they were born via c-section.

Breathing problems

When a woman undergoes labour, her contractions help the baby’s lungs prepare for respiration. That indicates that the newborn of a woman who doesn’t have contractions (c-sec without labour), the baby may not find it easy to breathe on its own when born.

Delayed skin-to-skin contact

There’s no denying that a mother’s closeness impacts the baby’s well-being. When a mother holds a newborn close to her, she naturally reduces the baby’s stress (yes, babies get stressed because they enter a completely alien environment) by stabilising its heartbeat and breathing. When a mother and baby have skin-to-skin contact, it increases the levels of oxytocin and endorphins in her, making her feel “motherly”. Most importantly, it increases the level of adrenaline in the baby, making it alert so that it can “find” its mother’s breast and latch on. This instinct may get delayed or go completely missing in babies born via c-section.

Delayed breastfeeding

In most cases, when a baby is born through c-section, it’s taken to a newborn nursery to be kept under observation for several hours. Plus, all the medications that a woman has to take post a c-sec delivery for recovery results in a delayed breastfeeding, sometimes by a day or two. In a natural birth, the baby is brought to the mother immediately who can kickstart breastfeeding instantly.

Intelligence

Although not proven entirely, a at Yale University study has suggested that babies born vaginally have a higher IQ than c-section babies. This is because during natural births, the levels of a protein called UCP2 is higher than in c-section births. This protein in babies’ brains helps boost intelligence levels as they develop.

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