First off, it’s important to note that not all women can choose how they want to give birth. While there are benefits to having a vaginal birth, there are good, life-saving reasons why some women may either choose or need to give birth via a C-section. Women who need to undergo birth interventions should never feel guilty.
Benefits of having a vaginal birth
However, it can’t be discounted that there are benefits to having a vaginal birth. Our bodies are home to trillions of tiny microscopic bacteria that live in our gut, our skin and our hair. These good bacteria are fundamental in helping to keep us healthy by protecting against viruses and bad bacteria. This collection of bacteria is known as a microbiome.
Multiple studies have found babies are exposed to some organisms in-utero, but those encountered during birth and via breastfeeding have the greatest influence and can affect the kind and mount of gut microbes, helping to protect your baby from developing future health concerns.
A Danish study of 2 million children born between 1977 and 2012, published in Pediatrics, found that those born by C-section were significantly more likely to develop asthma, systemic connective tissue disorders, juvenile arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and immune deficiencies compared to those who had vaginal births.
Research has found babies born “naturally” take on the microbes that line the way out. Those delivered via C-section, before membranes rupture and labour, can still pick up microbes from the mother’s skin (another good reason for skin-to-skin contact post birth). However, C-section babies pick up less microbes than vaginal birth babies. Interestingly, research has also shown that babies can gain some microbe benefit when they are born via emergency C-section, after the membranes have erupted.
According to a Finland study, the benefits (and differences) persist as long as seven years post birth.
A more recent study, “The Maternal Infant Microbiome: Considerations for Labour and Birth”, published in the American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, shares that the transfer of microbes from the mother to her newborn may serve as an early inoculation process with long-term health benefits. “Studies have shown that there are distinct differences in the microbiome profiles of newborns born vaginally compared to those born by C-section,” comments the report. “Considering that the first major microbial colonization occurs at birth, it is essential that labour and birth nurses be aware of the factors that may alter the composition of the microbiome during the labour and birth processes.” These include the route of birth, antibiotic use, breastfeeding and skin-to-skin post birth.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.