In the United States, just under a third of all births are preformed by cesarian section, also known as a “c-section”, a procedure which surgically removes a baby from the mother’s womb.  Of all c-sections performed, just 10% of births by c-section were elective —that is, they were chosen by the mother over natural childbirth. In many cases, c-section birth is unavoidable: either the mother or baby’s health, or life, depends on c-section delivery.
C-sections, like any surgery, are not without risk—however, the risk can be posed for both mom and baby. While most c-sections are life saving, and performed for reasons like pre-eclampsia when a pregnant woman’s blood pressure becomes dangerously high, certain risks including bleeding and perforation of other organs, may be of higher risk than with natural childbirth. For the infant, risks of c-section delivery may not be immediate: neonatal care has improved by leaps and bounds in past decades, and more babies than ever are surviving very preterm births and low birth weight thanks to medical advances.
I was born 10 weeks premature, in the very low birthweight category, by emergency c-section 25 years ago. Whether or not my asthma, ADHD, and learning issues are connected to my premature birth is likely, but also impossible to know for sure. I have retinopathy of prematurity and joint problems caused by a septic infection, which both could be attributed directly to premature birth. Regarding Cesarian births, a plethora of medical conditions have an increased risk of developing for children who were born by cesarian.
Children born by emergency c-section are of course receiving the best care for the situation they and their mother are in. However, understanding the risks down-the-road, later in life, is important to understand why an elective c-section should be avoided. It is suspected that the good bacteria the baby is exposed to during natural childbirth provides protective immune benefits throughout the lifespan—this lower level of bacterial exposure from the mother during c-section birth means the immune system does not have to begin developing quite as rapidly.
Some conditions that may be caused by this decreased immune response later in life include :
- Asthma (20% greater chance)
- Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (10% more likely)
- Immune system problems (general – 40% greater likelihood)
- Inflammatory bowel disease/disorders
It is important to note that Cesarian birth does not CAUSE these conditions but can make them more likely to occur.  Organizations such as March of Dimes recommend that, if at all possible, “a healthy baby is worth the wait”! While this only applies to preterm (premature) babies, I am sure all parents of premature babies would agree that they would have rather gone through longer pregnancies if they could have been healthy, than watching their babies spend their first days, weeks, or months in neonatal intensive care.
Cesarian birth is a life-saving procedure for both mom and baby. However, elective c-sections should be avoided and other options to reduce anxieties about childbirth considered.
If you are pregnant, wearing a pregnancy medical ID bracelet can ensure you get the care you and your baby need in an emergency. If your child has medical conditions such as asthma or juvenile arthritis, medical ID jewelry can help ensure they stay safe, especially for children on biologic therapies for severe inflammatory conditions.
Remember, your doctor is the one who knows what is right for you and your baby: if you are considering, or having second thoughts, regarding a cesarian birth, speak with your doctor to make the choice that is right for you.