The natural birth movement has been gaining speed and popularity in recent years. In Holland, some 50% of births are done at home, while in the UK, even the NHS has started to see the benefits and cost savings of natural birth. It has invested heavily with clinics like the Barkentine Centre, near to Canary Wharf in East London. Mothers, their spouses, and newborns get five star treatment at no charge, but only if they are not too posh to push. Those that fail are rushed to the less than glamorous Royal London Hospital in an ambulance. The NHS also offers home births where a mid wife comes to the mother´s home at the start of labor and the aim is to deliver the child in the comfort of the home.

More fuel is added to the natural birth argument with new research from Susanna Y Huh from the Division of Gastroenterology and Nutrition at the Children’s Hospital Boston. Her study used data from 1,255 mother and child pairs who attended eight outpatient maternity services in eastern Massachusetts, USA between 1999 and 2002. The mothers to be joined the study around 22 weeks into their pregnancy and their babies were measured and weighed at birth and at six months, with a follow up at the age of three. At the last checkup the child’s skinfold thickness, a measure of body fat, was also recorded. Out of the 1,255 deliveries, around one in four (22.6%; 284) were by caesarean section, and the remainder (77.4%; 971) were vaginal deliveries.

They say that the only time someone goes to hospital without actually being considered ill, is to give birth, and while there are certainly dangers to mother and child that should not be under estimated, women have evidentally been giving birth quite sucessfully for centuries, without the help of electronic equiupment and sterile stainless steel fixtures. In fact advocates of natural child birth are quick to point out that the stress and disruption caused to the mothers emotional state by rushing her around, and subjecting her to bright lights and multiple examinations in an emmergency medical type environment, can be partly responsible for shutting down the birth process and creating the need for an intervention.

According to Huh´s research, the mothers who delivered by c-section on average weighed more than those delivering vaginally, and the birth weight for gestational age of their babies also tended to be higher. The c-section mothers also had a tendency to breastfeed their babies for a shorter period.

Furthermore, around 16% of children delivered via c-section were obese by the age of three compared with only 7.5% of those born vaginally. Setting aside the birth weight and after taking into account the maternal weight (BMI) and several other influential factors, a caesarean section delivery was associated with a doubling in the odds of obesity by the time the child was three years old. Certainly a figure for healthcare professional to consider, especially those that advocate a quick easy surgery for the doctor and midwife, over an all night vigil, as the mother lets her body do what it was naturally designed to do.

The c-section children also had a higher BMI (body mass index is a measure of fat to tal body tissue), as well as a higher skinfold thickness.

Researchers are not sure exactly why the c-section causes the changes, but others have noted possibile behavioral issues with children born by c-cection. Perhaps it is simply the abrupt entry into the world, or a simpler issue that could be adjusted for mothers and babies that simply cannot avoid the C. Huh and others before her put forward the idea that is supported by scientific data, that the problem is associated with bacterial flora the child gains from it´s mother. This is obviously something that could be treated in a newborn.

Previous research has shown that babies born with a c-Section have a higher level of Firmicutes bacteria and nd lower numbers of Bacteroides bacteria in their guts. Obviously the passage through the vagina imparts some healthy symbiotic bacteria to the newborn. The Firmicutes bacteria have been associated with obesity, although it´s not known exactly why. Some postulate that gut bacteria influences development of obesity by increasing energy extracted from the diet, and causing cells to have more resistance to insulin, gather fat deposits and even inflammation in the process.

Others have talked about negative bacteria and fungus in the gut actively causing cravings and even addictions.

The researchers conclude that :

“An association between caesarean birth and increased risk of childhood obesity would provide an important rationale to avoid non-medically indicated caesarean section.”

They go onto to finish that mothers who choose a surgical delivery option should be made aware of the potential health risks to her baby, including the possibility of obesity.

Childhood obesity is becoming a serious problem in many countries. In the UK, four times as many kids were admitted to hospital with an obesity-related problem in 2009 compared to 2001.

Written by Rupert Shepherd