Is C-Section Allergy Risk Real?

If you’re one of a growing number of expectant moms contemplating an elective cesarean section, consider this: More and more evidence confirms that it may be in your child’s best interest to let nature take its course, since new research suggests a relationship between C-section and allergy risk. C-section babies are five times more likely to develop allergies by age 2 than babies born vaginally, according to a study of 1,258 newborns from Henry Ford Hospital presented at the February 2013 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

The findings reinforce previous indications that babies born by C-section are more prone to diarrhea, asthma and food allergies, because they are not exposed to valuable bacteria in the vagina that stimulate the development of infant immunity. “This further advances the hygiene hypothesis that early childhood exposure to microorganisms affects the immune system’s development and onset of allergies,” says lead author of the study, Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, chair of Henry Ford Department of Public Health Sciences. “We believe a baby’s exposure to bacteria in the birth canal is a major influencer on their immune system.”

More about C-Section Allergy Risk

A new study also supports Henry Ford researchers’ premise about C-section allergy risk. Published in the scientific journal Gut August 2013, the small Swedish study followed the development of intestinal-tract microorganisms in 24 children, nine delivered by C-section and 15 delivered naturally, up to age 2. The C-section-born children had less abundant and less diverse populations of the vital immunity-building microorganisms, according to the researchers.

Especially noteworthy was the surgically born children’s lack in number and diversity of Bacteroidetes, a group of bacteria that has specifically been linked to protection against allergies. In addition, the C-section group had lower levels of the cell secretions responsible for triggering white blood cells’ immune response.

Reducing Allergy Risks When C-Section is a Must

Delivering naturally is obviously the best way to protect your child from C-section allergy risk; however, sometimes a surgical birth is medically necessary. So what can be done to minimize your baby’s allergy risk if a Cesarean delivery is your only option? More study is needed, but researchers have identified some measures to explore.

Start solids sooner To reduce C-section allergy risk, one author of the Swedish study suggests feeding solids to surgically delivered babies sooner. “Earlier exposure to ordinary solid food may stimulate a higher diversity of the gut microbiota,” says Maria Jenmalm, professor of Experimental Allergology at Linköping University.

Push probiotics Other ideas propose reducing C-section allergy risk by introducing cesarean-born babies to the beneficial bacteria they would have encountered had they traveled through the birth canal. During pregnancy, the distribution of bacteria in the vagina shifts so that there is a higher concentration of lactobacillus, which aids in the digestion of milk. Jenmalm suggests that giving lactobacillus probiotics to mothers during pregnancy and to infants during the first year of life may help babies develop a healthy gut environment that fends off allergies. The Swedish researchers also plan to study whether applying vaginal fluids directly to the face and mouth of C-section newborns improves the babies’ allergy immunity.

If research proves these methods effective, they could become standard medical practices that help establish healthy bacterial colonization in surgically born babies and, ultimately, minimize C-section allergy risk and other related health issues.

What new research has to say.

By Katherine M. Tomlinson

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