From what they eat to how they exercise, expecting mothers have so many decisions to make that could affect their future children's lives in one way or another. And now, a September 2016 study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that even the way you deliver your baby can play a major role in his or her health for years to come.
Harvard researchers analyzed data from the Growing Up Today Study, which included more than 22,000 participants; the study took place between 1996 and 2012, and asked participants questions every year or every two years. The researchers aimed to figure out the connection between delivery — whether vaginal or cesarean — and obesity throughout life.
The analysis showed that people who were born via C-section were 15 percent more likely to become obese as children, teens, and young adults. They also showed that C-section babies were 64 percent more likely to become obese than their siblings who were born vaginally. What's more, if a mom had a C-section first, and then another baby, the second child was 31 percent less likely to be obese if he or she was born vaginally. The sibling results are especially important because a mother's health and genetics are likely to be similar between births, so researchers can pinpoint how delivery affects the children's later health.
Why the connection? Scientists think that the birth canal contains essential bacteria that can boost an infant's health. Expectant moms shouldn't worry too much if their doctor says they need a cesarean, but the researchers urge parents to reconsider if a C-section isn't medically necessary. The Los Angeles Times notes that C-section babies in this study had an even higher risk of obesity if their mothers didn't have a medical need for the procedure.
Of course, there are other potential factors at play here, as well. For example, the BBC notes that babies born via C-section are less likely to be breastfed, and that has also been associated with a higher risk of obesity. Overall, more research still needs to be done to determine a cause-and-effect relationship.
This is one of many studies focusing on the health effects of birth via C-section. A June 2015 review of studies, which was published in the British Medical Journal, found 20 studies linking C-section births to diabetes, 23 linking them to asthma, and nine linking them to obesity.
"Cesarean deliveries are without a doubt a necessary and lifesaving procedure in many cases," Jorge Chavarro, senior author of the Harvard study, said in a press release. "But cesareans also have some known risks to the mother and the newborn. Our findings show that risk of obesity in the offspring could [be] another factor to consider."