C-section research aims to uncover hidden benefits of vaginal births
About 30% of pregnant women in the United States deliver their babies by caesarian section (C-section). In that procedure, doctors surgically remove a baby from the mother’s uterus. The baby does not pass through the mother’s birth canal. In most cases, doctors perform C-section deliveries to minimize inherent risks to both mother and baby.
However some researchers believe that natural childbirth imparts some distinct benefits to the baby, in the form of exposure to microbes that reside in the mother’s vaginal canal. As evidence, the researchers cite a higher incidence of chronic health problems among babies delivered surgically. These include obesity and asthma.
Other researchers say that avoiding the mother’s birth canal eliminates a route of transmission for certain infections, including HIV and herpes. At least four research groups worldwide are now examining the potential connection between microbial exposure during birth and improved health outcomes for babies.
The idea that exposure to bacteria during birth might be good is not new. In 2010, a researcher at Rutgers University found that babies’ natural bacterial collection varied, based on whether they arrived vaginally or via C-section. Further, babies born via C-section also went on to develop a higher incidence of long-term health problems like obesity, asthma, Type 1 diabetes and other immune disorders. Studies in mice also showed that the method of birth appeared to impact the development of immune system disorders and obesity.
Studying the risks of bacterial exposure during birth
On the other side of the argument, some researchers find little support for a connection between a baby’s long-term health and exposure to its mother’s vaginal bacterial. They argue that the only way to confirm such a connection is to conduct large, randomized studies. Researchers at Rutgers University and Mount Sinai in New York City will be doing just that. Additionally, researchers in Sweden and China will also be looking at the same question. The Swedish researchers are looking for a connection between bacterial exposure and asthma. The Chinese scientists will examine the connection between bacterial exposure, obesity, and allergies.
In all studies, researchers will screen the participating mothers for diseases that babies could acquire during birth, including HIV and group B streptococcus – a known contributor to respiratory diseases. They will exclude women who carry these known complications.
Even with the controls, many researchers still believe the risk of exposure to bacteria outweighs the perceived or potential benefit to the baby. They shudder at the prospect of voluntarily exposing a baby to bacteria in the absence of known benefits. Still others express reluctance without knowing exactly what the goal of the process is. They fear that the focus on bacterial exposure may cause missed opportunities to improve babies’ outcomes by improving maternal health.
Clinical trials are underway right now, and researchers hope to present evidence to support or discount the practice soon.
Banking cord blood during C-Section
Regardless of what the clinical trials show, research will likely lead to better outcomes for surgically delivered babies. That is important for mothers who undergo planned or emergency C-section deliveries. You can still bank your baby’s umbilical cord blood, even if you have a C-section delivery.
Using normal surgical and collection procedures, a C-section typically yields less cord blood than a vaginal delivery does. This is often because the surgeon is attending to the mother at the time they would normally collect cord blood. Researchers at the University of Catania in Italy discovered that they could increase the volume of cord blood for banking by about 50% during a C-section by simply modifying the collection procedure.² The procedural improvement also increased the cord blood nucleated cell number and the mean cord blood CD34+ number as well.
Regardless of how you plan to deliver your baby the New England Cord Blood Bank family can provide you with more information about banking stem cells for your family’s future good health.