Everything Pregnancy

Babies Born Via C-Section Do Better If Mom Labors First

A new study finds differences in health risks for babies born via planned versus unplanned C-sections.

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Nearly 33 percent of all babies in the United States are born via Cesarean section, according to CDC data. Previous studies have shown C-section babies may have more health risks, such as breathing problems at birth, and poorer general long-term health.

Now, a large Scottish study published in JAMA suggests babies born via C-sections to mothers who labored first are actually healthier.

To reach their conclusions, researchers looked at all full-term, firstborn babies in Scotland over 15 years—321,287 babies total—and determined those born via planned C-sections had more health problems, from asthma to irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, Type 1 diabetes, and cancer, than those delivered vaginally or in emergency C-sections.

The findings are surprising, given a planned Cesarean is typically performed under more controlled circumstances. But it seems labor is what gives babies the healthiest start to life, even if ultimately they are not born vaginally.

Labor & Delivery: What to Expect in a C-Section

The study's lead author, Dr. Mairead Black, a University of Aberdeen obstetrician, says labor may expose babies to some healthy bacteria they are missing out on in a C-section birth.

Carol Sakala, director of the nonprofit Childbirth Connection programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, has another theory about why labor is beneficial: "When you don't wait for labor to begin on its own, you cut short all kinds of physiological changes and preparations for birth that are taking place toward the end of pregnancy."

It's worth noting the babies born via planned C-sections showed only a slightly higher risk for health problems than those born in unplanned surgeries, except in the case of Type 1 diabetes; they had a 35 percent higher risk of developing the condition. But their chances for being obese or needing an asthma inhaler were not much higher than other kids.

The takeaway? Avoid a planned C-section if possible. But don't panic if you need one.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.