A new study says that Caesarean sections could contribute to childhood obesity risk—which sounds like custom-made comment bait for parenting blogs, what with all the reference to hot-button issues of obesity and mothers’ bodies. But on closer look, I think it’s probably an attempt to get more parents and doctors contemplating the real health risks associated with C-sections, which have reached an all-time high.
Researchers observed 1,250 women from before their 22nd week of pregnancy to birth (25% of which were by C-section) at the Children’s Hospital of Boston. The babies’ height and weight was measured at three months and three years; by age three, 16% of the c-section toddlers were obese, compared to 7.5% of those born by vaginal birth. Researchers said the results were independent of their birth weights, and of their mothers’ weight.
The researchers have speculated that vaginal birth could influence the bacteria in a newborn’s gut, which in turn impacts the way they digest and metabolize food. Another possibility is that the hormones released during vaginal birth could be linked to the babies’ metabolism. But their conclusion’s strongest conviction is that women should reconsider scheduling a C-section just for the sake of personal preference.
C-sections comprise one in three hospital births, despite being necessary for only five to 15% of deliveries. Most pin the high rates on doctor and patient preferences, despite growing evidence of their disconcerting implications for mother mortality and health (C-sections have been linked to low mother mortality, practically making it safer to have an abortion than give birth in the U.S.).
Many advocates of natural or home birth have pointed to the benefits for maternal health and safety, but studies like this seem to be bidding for mothers’ concerns for children’s health. Dr. Amos Grunebaum, director of obstetrics and chief of labor and delivery at the New York Weill Cornell Medical Center, reflected on the study findings with a word of warning to mothers considering their birthing options:
We already know that if you do Caesarean-section, especially when there’s no medical indication, there’s an increased risk of babies being admitted to the intensive care unit for breathing issues.
And with childhood obesity risk in the mix, he thinks more women need to know about the dangers of unnecessary C-sections:
Whenever we do any procedure, we balance risks with benefits. And if risks outweigh benefits — and in this case there are some risks such as obesity versus very little benefits — then women should be aware of this.