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C-Section Babies More Likely to be Overweight Adults

600Researchers from Imperial College London have found that babies born by cesarean section are at higher risk to be obese later in life than those who are born by vaginal delivery.

The conclusion comes from an analysis of 15 studies spanning 150,000 births in 10 countries. All studies were published between 1934 and March 31, 2012. Those born by C-section had a 26 percent higher chance of being overweight than those born by vaginal birth.

These adults also have a body mass index of a half-point heavier than those delivered naturally.

Currently in the United States, about a third of all babies are born via cesarean, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number is at an all-time high and has been climbing steadily since 1996. A cesarean– or C-section– is the delivery of a baby through a cut (incision) in the mother’s belly and uterus. In most cases, a woman can be awake during the birth and be with her newborn soon afterward, according to WebMD. Doctors often perform the procedure because of problems that arise during labor. For example:

  • Labor is slow and hard or stops completely
  • The baby shows signs of distress, such as a very fast or slow heart rate
  • A problem with the placenta or umbilical cord puts the baby at risk
  • The baby is too big to be delivered vaginally

If doctors know about a problem beforehand, a C-section can be planned if:

  • The baby is not in a head-down position close to the mother’s due date
  • The patient has a problem, such as heart disease, that could be made worse by the stress of labor
  • The patient has an infection that could pass to the baby during a vaginal birth (such as HIV)
  • The patient is carrying more than one baby
  • Patient has had a C-section before, and still has the same problems

It was not clear whether a third of expecting mothers in the study experienced any of the problems that required a C-section, however experts are worried that more surgeries are being performed than are needed.

“There are good reasons why C-section may be the best option for many mothers and their babies, and C- sections can on occasion be life-saving,” said Neena Modi, the study’s senior author. “However, we need to understand the long-term outcomes in order to provide the best advice to women who are considering caesarean delivery. This study shows that babies born by C-section are more likely to be overweight or obese later in life.”

Doctors are not sure why this link exists; it could be simply that bigger babies tend to be delivered by C-section or that mothers are less likely to breastfeed. Matthew Hyde, co-author of the study, suggested that C-section babies do not develop the same levels of healthy bacteria in the gut as vaginal babies. “The compression of the baby during vaginal birth appears to influence which genes are switched on, and this could have a long-term effect on metabolism.”

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on twitter @ReporterandGirl or on and visit her website at

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