C-Section Babies At Higher Risk For Obesity (Moms Still At Higher Risk For Death)

obesity c-sectionsA 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.


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    • Eileen

      I never know quite what to say about this, since it is a hot-button kind of thing, and I’d never want to shame women who have had C-sections: I know a couple of women who likely would have died without them, and at least one kid who had severe damage to her body because her mom’s doctor refused to perform one. C-sections were an important innovation in helping to keep women and babies safe, and the last thing I would want is for a woman to allow her baby or herself to be damaged because she thought natural was better.

      …but at the same time, elective C-sections have always confused me. Why opt for surgery and all the associated risks when you don’t have to?

      • Morgan

        I don’t know about most people choosing to have C-sections, but for me it was not an easy choice. I had always planned to try for a natural delivery. However, when my first born became infected due to meconium in the fluid, he began to have heart problems. Shortly thereafter the doctors were rushing with ice-bags and paging for an emergency c-section as we learned that not only had the infection spread into my son’s lungs but into my uterus as well. My husband and I continued to fight for a vaginal delivery. Then I had a fever of 105 and my child had a heart-rate of 220. He was delivered immediately. I remember the sound of the heart monitor increasing, more and more and more fearing that the wouldn’t get him out in time. I remember seeing my husband crying for fear that I would not survive the surgery, I went unconscious before going into cardiac arrest. I woke up confused, shocked, scared, hopeful and grateful to be alive and hear the news that my baby was alive (in the NICU).

        Fast forward 3 years and I was pregnant again, my pregnancy was closely monitored by a high risk- maternal-fetal medicine practice due to a clotting disorder. When the time came to “choose” my doctor, husband and myself felt more comfortable scheduling another cesarean at 39 weeks and hoping to not relive the nightmare that our family experienced the first time around. Our doctor was more comfortable with the risks associated operating given my history and condition and we agreed. I’m so grateful that the choice in this situation worked out for all of us, my child was born without any problems. I was able to actually nurse him in the recovery room and was discharged from the hospital within 2 days of surgery (which is much shorter than the normal amount of time). This IS NOT always the way it goes and sadly the statistics show that I may have not made the “safest” choice. However, for what it’s worth, that’s why I chose it when I didn’t have to.

      • Maria

        Why opt for hours horrible pain if you don’t have to? I’d also like to keep my genitals from ripping, thank you very much.

        I’m a C-Section kid, and have always worn a size 2 without putting any effort into it (except eating very little meat).

    • Nellie

      I don’t find the numbers high enough to generalize, specially when the study was done only in one study site. Besides I would like to know how things like diet and exercise factor in this study.