Babies born by cesarean section have a 40% greater risk of being obese
Increasing numbers of children worldwide are born by cesarean, a necessary surgical procedure in those cases in which vaginal delivery can compromise the health of both mother and baby. That is, as the World Health Organization (WHO) recalls in its report on the increase in caesarean sections worldwide, the procedure should only be carried out when medical justification proves necessary. Not surprisingly, a cesarean section is a surgical procedure, so it is associated with short-term and very long-term risks, which may compromise future pregnancies and the health of the mother and her newborn. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore shows that children born by cesarean section have a 40% higher risk of developing childhood obesity than those born naturally.
As explained by Noel T. Mueller, director of this research presented at the American Heart Association (AHA), “we believe that the reason for this difference between natural delivery and cesarean delivery may be due to the beneficial microorganisms found in the birth canal, microorganisms to which neonates are exposed during vaginal delivery”.
The aim of the study was to analyze the possible relationship between cesarean sections and an increased risk of obesity in infants during their infantile development. To do this, the authors evaluated the body mass index (BMI) of 1441 children born in Boston after reaching the age of 2 to 8 years.
The results showed that children born by cesarean section had a 40% higher risk of developing obesity before reaching their second decade of life. An increase in the probability of natural childbirth, which was also independent of other risk factors for childhood obesity, such as the mother’s age at birth, ethnicity, educational level, mother’s BMI before conception, weight gain during pregnancy, exposure to air pollution or birth weight of the baby.
The risk of childhood obesity was even higher than 40% in those cases in which the mother was obese. One aspect to be taken into account given that 57% of the mothers in whom a cesarean section was performed and 53% of those who gave birth by birth were obese – that is, a BMI equal to or greater than 30 km/m2.
As the authors write, “the fact that the mother is overweight has been associated, in general and irrespective of the way children were born, with children being overweight or obese. However, in the study the researchers have seen that this association is more pronounced in women who underwent cesarean.
And how to explain this higher rate of childhood obesity? Because, as has already been mentioned, children born by caesarean section do not come into contact with the microorganisms that ‘inhabit’ the birth canal. These microorganisms can have a beneficial effect on the health of newborns, such as metabolism enhancement and enhanced ‘training’ of the immune system.
More studies are necessary to assess whether the exposure of cesarean-born infants to vaginal micro-organisms at birth can reduce their risk of developing metabolic disorders, such as obesity.