Babies coming into the world by cesarean section experience epigenetic changes, a study has found. So far there has not been enough follow up to know whether the effects are long lasting, but the discovery may explain the relatively poorer outcomes for babies delivered in this way.
Cesarean delivery, where the mother's abdomen and uterus are surgically cut open to remove the baby, was once a last, desperate option. However, rates are increasing dramatically worldwide, closing on 50% in China.
The trend is deeply controversial among health professionals, with a variety of concerns expressed about the consequences, including hemorrhaging, persistent pain and depression for the mother and respiratory diseases and obesity for the baby. However, in many countries perverse financial incentives favor the use of cesareans even where a vaginal birth is probably the better choice.
Despite epidemiological evidence that cesarean birth is associated with a higher risk of conditions such as type-1 diabetesthe mechanism is unknown, which may have hampered responses. However, Professor Tomas Ekstrom has provided a step towards an explanation with a paper in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.