Caesarean section births have become a popular topic of conversation after a recent US study suggested that babies born by caesarean section are 15% more likely to become obese. You may be wondering what this means for you if you are due to have a birth by caesarean section or have given birth this way before.
To put your mind at rest, Dr Penelope Law, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, discusses the research and clarifies any questions you may have about giving birth by C-section.
Is it true babies born by caesarean section will cause my child to develop obesity?
Absolutely not. This study does not prove that Caesarean section causes obesity in children - there were many variables that were not accounted for that can affect childhood and adult weight. For example, the participants in the study were not asked to detail their dietary intake along with their family's diet, nor whether they chose to breast or bottle feed their babies. Both of these factors will influence childhood weight.
What is a caesarean section and why is it performed?
A Caesarean section is a surgical procedure to deliver your baby through an incision in your abdomen and uterus.
There are many reasons that a Caesarean section may be chosen for the birth of your baby. An elective Caesarean section may be indicated if your placenta is covering the opening of your cervix (placenta praevia). It will also be offered as an option if your baby is in the breech position (when the baby is positioned with its bottom or feet first).
It may be performed if you have previously had a Caesarean section and you would prefer not to have a vaginal delivery, or if your baby requires an operation after birth so the medical staff can be on hand. You may of course simply choose to deliver this way, once you have considered the risks versus benefits.
All non-scheduled Caesarean sections are described as 'emergency' even though there is usually no immediate danger to you or the baby. This means that except in a few extreme circumstances, your delivery can take place in the next half an hour and result in the safe delivery of a healthy baby.
Reasons for a Caesarean section during labour can include umbilical cord prolapse, abnormalities of the foetal heart rate (if it's beating too fast or too slow and not normalising), ongoing vaginal bleeding or no cervical dilatation despite contractions.
What effects can a caesarean section have on the mother?
This is a major operation for the mother - with all the risks of bleeding, infection, blood clots in the legs or chest, and potentially a small chance of damage to other internal organs or blood vessels. For most women, it is possible to remain awake and have an epidural or spinal anaesthetic, which is safer for the mother than being put to sleep.
What effects can it have on the child in later life?
Until very recently, evidence has not shown any long term effects on babies born by Caesarean section compared to those born by vaginal delivery. For a while there was concern about the maturity of the foetal lungs but if an elective Caesarean is performed at 39 weeks, the chance of the baby needing help with breathing are small.
Concerns regarding maternal bonding are much less since the mother is usually awake and can usually see her baby emerging and hold her/him straight away.
What exactly is childhood obesity and how can I avoid my child developing obesity?
Childhood and indeed adult obesity occurs when the child's weight is higher than it should be for their height. There are grades of obesity and these are currently measured by BMI (Body Mass Index). A BMI over 30 is considered to be obese, in the UK about 22% of women attending for their first antenatal appointment have a BMI over 30.
You can help your child to eat healthily and get a good amount of exercise by not introducing sugary foods to them as babies, and ensuring that as a family you all partake in sport and exercise, boys are more likely to be obese if they have obese fathers and the same for girls with their mothers.
Follow Dr Penelope Law on Twitter: @ThePortlandHosp