While many moms do their best to avoid c-sections, birth doesn’t always go as planned. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing: A new study shows that not all c-sections are created equal.
The study, published in Journal of American Medical Associates this month, looked at full-term, firstborn births in Scotland over a 15-year period, tracking babies’ longterm health. And the findings have a major takeaway: Babies delivered via planned c-section have more health problems than those born vaginally or via emergency c-section, in which the mother has already started going into labor. This comes as a surprise to researchers, who expected the controlled environment of an elective or planned c-section to be more conducive to healthy outcomes.
So what is it about labor—or the initial experience of the body preparing for labor—that makes such a difference?
“Our thinking was: If a baby is born naturally, it comes into contact with bacteria from the mother, which might help with immune system development,” lead researcher Dr. Mairead Black tells The New York Times.
That makes sense. But what about babies born via emergency c-section? Why are they better off—albeit slightly—than those delivered through planned c-sections?
“When you don’t wait for labor to begin on its own, you cut short all kinds of physiological changes and preparations for birth that are taking place toward the end of pregnancy,” Carol Sakala, the director of the nonprofit Childbirth Connection programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, tells The New York Times.
Still, all c-section babies are at a greater risk for asthma and hospitalization when compared to babies born vaginally. But those born through an emergency c-section had a 35 percent lower risk of Type 1 diabetes—a concern for all c-section babies—than their planned c-section counterparts.