- Vaginal Delivery vs. C-Section
- Misconceptions About C-Sections
- Vaginal Microbiome and Pre-Birth Microbial Exposure
- Vaginal Microbiome and Labor
- Are Antibiotics More Harmful Than C-Sections?
- Breastfeeding for Baby Health
- Vaginal Seeding for Newborns
- Is C-Sections Dangerous for Baby Gut Health?
The belief that C-sections destroy a baby’s chance at a healthy microbiome has become a popular one. This common narrative may not be as clear as we once thought, though. When the baby passes through the vaginal microbiome, your incoming bundle of joy gets exposed to a plethora of bacteria .
Common idea is that this initial exposure of the baby to the vaginal microbiome is pivotal in setting the trajectory for the baby’s health. This belief system is known as the hygiene hypothesis. While there is some credibility to the hygiene hypothesis, it doesn’t mean a baby born via C-section is doomed.
Many interchanging variables may give C-sections a wrongful negative stigma. Let’s learn more about the vaginal microbiome and how C-sections may affect your baby’s gut health.
Vaginal Delivery vs. C-Section
Numerous health-conscious mothers want the immune-boosting support of a vaginal delivery. However, many women prefer the comfort of a C-section. Others must choose this delivery method for health reasons.
No matter what, it’s a woman’s choice. They shouldn’t feel pressured to sway either way. However, these decision-makers should have all the facts.
Thankfully, our knowledge about C-sections is broadening. Not all C-sections are created equal. Therefore, your baby’s health may be just fine. In fact, some C-sections still expose your baby to healthy stomach bacteria!
Misconceptions About C-Sections
There are a lot of health risks for babies associated with getting a C-section.
In fact, babies who are products of C-sections have been linked to:
While these statistics may be alarming, each situation is unique. Not only do each mother have their own set of immune cells that they transfer to their children, but each individual C-section is performed under different circumstances.
All of these subtle differences in pregnancies make each experience special.
Vaginal Microbiome and Pre-Birth Microbial Exposure
Babies do not live in a sterile environment like we once thought. Bacteria are found throughout the womb. Not to mention, there are stomach bacteria in a baby’s first bowel movement. Yeah, those sometimes occur inside the uterus!
An analysis of the vaginal microbiome found,
“Human amniotic fluid and placenta harbour unique microbial communities, which may provide the initial inoculum for gut colonisation, the single most important determinant of host-microbe interaction modulating the risk of non-communicable disease  .”– Nature
These findings show that a baby’s exposure to bacteria happens before it is even born.
Additionally, after the amniotic sac, (which is the sac of water the fetus is held in) breaks, the baby begins to be exposed to stomach bacteria in the vaginal microbiome.
Even if the result of the birth is a C-section, the broken amniotic sac allows some bacterial exposure from the vaginal microbiome.
This partial greeting between fetus and microbes affects the baby’s microbiome.
Research suggests that babies whose mother’s water broke prior to a C-section being performed had more microbial biodiversity than children born of a C-section whose mother’s water didn’t break .
Vaginal Microbiome and Labor
Labor is when a woman’s body begins to prepare for childbirth. In a nutshell, The labor process includes massive hormonal shifts .
When these changes happen, it causes:
- Contractions of the Uterus
- Dilation of the Cervix
- Amniotic Sac Rupturing (Water Breaking)
All of these changes don’t just affect mom.
Also, as mentioned above, after the water breaks, vaginal bacteria exposure begins. One study found that babies that were born after the mother labored had a different microbiome than if the mother hadn’t .
Labor makes a difference in the initial development and health of a newborn. Many women who have C-sections undergo the procedure long after the labor process has begun. Some women, however, go through the C-section process before labor has started.
Are Antibiotics More Harmful Than C-Sections?
In many cases, antibiotics are a lifesaving necessity during birth, but that does not mean they don’t have their drawbacks. It is already common knowledge that antibiotics can harm your microbiome . Even scarier, studies are showing that they can affect babies before they are even born.
One analysis found,
“Our results indicate an effect of IAP (intrapartum antimicrobial prophylaxis) on the establishing early microbiota during the first months of life, which represent a key moment for the development of the microbiota-induced host homeostasis .”– Microbiome
Some studies show that it may not be the actual C-section that causes the differences in microbiome and disease development in children, but the antibiotics are to blame .
Antibiotics During C-Sections
When C-sections are performed, antibiotics are given during or after surgery to prevent infection. The problem is, different antibiotic protocols are used during C-section deliveries. Sometimes they are administered during or after the surgery.
Also, sometimes antibiotics are administered during vaginal deliveries, such as when a woman has Group B strep .
Not shockingly, babies born vaginally that are exposed to antibiotics show similar microbial results to babies born via C-section who were exposed to antibiotics . That’s because antibiotics wipe out all bacteria.
If your doctor ever recommends you take antibiotics during the birthing process, you need to take them. Often antibiotics can be a lifesaving tool for both mom and baby. This life-saving measure does not mean they don’t come with drawbacks, though. It is good to talk to your doctor about minimizing unnecessary antibiotic use before the birthing process begins.
Breastfeeding for Baby Health
Research suggests babies that are breastfed are generally healthier later in life. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommends this act.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant .”– American Academy of Pediatrics
Another critical component of microbiome development is whether or not a baby was breastfed. Breastmilk has been found to contain many probiotic bacteria and prebiotics that help to develop a healthy microbiome .
Breastmilk Probiotics and Baby Growth
Often babies who were born via C-section have a harder time breastfeeding and do not breastfeed as frequently or as long . This difference is another factor that could account for the correlations between C-section delivery and disease development later on.
When you breastfeed, it’s important to keep with a regular schedule. As your baby gets older, the breast milk changes in composition to continually meet the nutritional needs of the baby .
Vaginal Seeding for Newborns
Seeding is when a baby born by C-section is exposed to vaginal fluids immediately after birth. This practice is done by swabbing the baby in gauze with vaginal fluids from the mother to “seed” the baby’s microbiome .
The rationale behind seeding is that all of the negative correlations associated with C-sections are because the baby is not exposed to the bacteria-rich vaginal fluids. While a thoughtful theory, there is no reliable evidence that the initial vaginal microbiome exposure determines the trajectory of the baby’s microbiome.
Additionally, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists does not recommend this practice since it can introduce pathogens and harmful bacteria into the baby’s environment.
There are instances where babies can become ill due to pathogenic bacteria in the vagina. Therefore, the risks do not outweigh the costs with the current research .
Is C-Sections Dangerous for Baby Gut Health?
There is a correlation between a multitude of diseases later in life and C-section delivery. Right now, we don’t know exactly what component of delivery or after-birth care makes the most significant difference.
Even if you need to have a C-section all hope is not lost, you can still give your baby the best shot at having a healthy microbiome. Being educated on all the different ways your baby’s microbiome can be affected is essential. It’s good to realize the story is not entirely so black and white, and sometimes those shades of gray are okay!
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