Babies born through a caesarean section may have an increased risk of being hospitalized with infections, according to a new study.
The analysis published in PLOS Medicine used data on 7,174,787 single births in Denmark, Scotland, England and Australia from 1996 to 2015. Of these, 1,681,966 were caesarean sections, 43 percent of which were elective. They tracked the children up to their 5th birthday and tracked hospital stays due to infection.
More than 1.5 million of the children were hospitalized with infections during the course of the study. Babies born by caesarean section had a 10 percent higher risk of infection, which required hospitalization, than babies born vaginally. The risks persisted for five years and the rates were highest for gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.
The study looked at many factors that can increase the risk of infection, including maternal smoking, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure. the socio-economic status of the family; and the gestational age and birth weight of the baby. However, the researchers had no data on breastfeeding, vaccination, or postnatal smoke exposure, which could also affect infection rates.
“This is not about telling women how to give birth or telling women how to feel guilty about giving birth to their babies,” said senior author Dr. David P. Burgner, a senior research fellow at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. “This decision is for the woman in consultation with her doctor. This is a large-scale observational study that shows a small but consistent risk. “