Study: C-Section Babies Miss Out on a Dose of Beneficial Bacteria

By Andrew Moseman | June 22, 2010 10:17 am

baby hand parentDNA may dictate your development, but you also wouldn’t be you without the unique mix of bacteria that make their home on your body. This week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say that the very moment of your birth can decide for a lifetime what kind bacteria live in your body, and even whether you’ll be at a higher risk for conditions like asthma.

The uterus is a sterile environment. So, in the womb, babies don’t have any bacteria to call their own. It’s only once they enter the world that they begin to collect the microbes that will colonize their bodies and help shape their immunity [Scientific American].

How babies enter the world is the key, the team says. The studied surveyed the bacterial colonies of 10 mothers just before birth; four of those women gave birth traditionally and six did through cesarean section. When the scientists then checked up on the bacteria living in the newborns, they found that the difference in birth method decided what microbes the baby would get. Those born vaginally tended to pick up the bacteria from their mother’s vagina, while those born via C-section harbored bacterial colonies that tend to come from skin.

Dr Noah Fierer, one of the study leaders from the University of Colorado at Boulder, US, said: “In a sense the skin of newborn infants is like freshly tilled soil that is awaiting seeds for planting – in this case, bacterial communities. The microbial communities that cluster on newborns essentially act as their first inoculation.” He added: “In C-sections, the bacterial communities of infants could come from the first person to handle the baby, perhaps the father” [UK Press Association].

While C-sections have shot up in popularity and can be a life-saving procedure for the mother, this study suggests that the birth method can skew those “bacterial communities.” And the mix of skin bacteria that C-section babies pick up may not be as effective an inoculation.

Previous research suggests that babies born via C-section are more likely to develop allergies, asthma and other immune system–related troubles than are babies born the traditional way [Science News].

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Vital Signs: End-of-term complications almost kill a mother
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Gut bacteria reflect diet and evolutionary past
80beats: Scientists Sequence DNA From the Teeming Bacterial Universe in Your Guts
80beats: Special Seaweed-Chomping Bacteria Found in the Guts of Japanese Diners

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Rain

    Well, the solution seems simple enough. Handle the baby with gloves until it receives an inoculation from the appropriate source of bacteria. I wonder if modern sensibilities would allow this? Of course there are conditions and situations where it would not be possible to collect the correct bacteria, but whatever. In any case, the child should be put on its mother’s skin first, regardless of whatever else may happen.

    I was born via c-section, and while I was a bit of a sickly child, I am an extremely robust adult.

  • badnicolez

    I wonder if this could also help explain the increase in autism.

  • Jake Majors, M.D. FACOG

    Prior to this Century approximately 50% of women died as result of childbirth. The rate of fetal loss and children was even higher. Cesarean birth is not a good thing, it is a wonderful thing. Women are encouraged to experience pain for no defensible reason……. Does the phrase natural childbirth sound offensive? It should…. No other branch of medicine encourages a painful experience like obstetrics can. To say something is natural is to say that the opposite of it is natural. Ask your dentist for a natural tooth extraction and see what look you get from her! I know the artical is not overtly against cesarean, but the obvious undercurrent is everywhere you look. This is never the case against vaginal delivery. Read about strep infection from that route that is a proven killer of newborns. Please excuse my poor diction, proof reading in an airport on a phone screen is tough.

  • Colleen Little

    I have had two children via c-section, the first an emergency, and the second a near emergency. The OB doc told me that a hundred years ago I would have died in childbirth, as the baby was just too big for me to deliver (the first) and the second was breached.

    Now, nearly 30 years later, I am so grateful to the doctors who brought my children into the world! I am also grateful to be alive to see my grandchildren. There is nothing wrong with c-sections, except that the insurance companies don’t like them.

  • Rain

    I don’t see anything in this article that says c-sections are bad. It just says that the bacteria baby is exposed to is not necessarily what the baby needs. The article should be leading us to figure out how to help baby, not leading us to argue pro/against c-section as the issue of c-section is more complex than baby’s personal flora.

    My mother and I would both be dead without c-section. Hell, she would be dead without modern medicine long before she had kids, so again, the issue is not medical advancements, it is something else. Focus people.

    We sure are a defensive lot, aren’t we?


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar