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Do Cesarean Sections Change a Baby's DNA?


We’ve spent much time discussing the risks and benefits of a vaginal birth versus a cesarean delivery (see “For More Information,” below). This is of particular interest because cesarean rates are increasing across the globe (especially with the amount of cesareans that are alleged not medically necessary). A new study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology evaluates whether cesarean sections could cause changes to a baby’s DNA.

The Study

This initial study only evaluated 64 children born at term, comparing cesarean section and vaginal deliveries. The doctors drew cord blood, and performed a DNA analysis, finding that it was possible that the method of delivery altered the DNA of the stem cells. In many cases, this caused significant differences in the immune system. One theory is that those changes could cause increases in other risks that are associated with cesarean deliveries, like diabetes, asthma, allergies and obesity. Interestingly, the study seems to equate the rigors of a vaginal delivery with a sort of training that helps the baby to adapt to other medical issues later in life. A cesarean, being an easier delivery for the baby, does little to prepare the child for the real world.

How Does This Affect My Choices?

Doctors have an obligation to provide their patients with informed consent. There are other studies similar to this one, investigating whether the choice of delivery can turn on or off various genes and cause significant medical problems. Should doctors provide this information to patients who are looking for information about whether to choose cesarean section or not? It certainly can’t hurt, but the research is still in its infancy.

The important questions with regard to the choice between cesarean section and vaginal birth tends to rest on two factors—if the delivery is a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean); or if the doctor or patient requests the cesarean for convenience and scheduling purposes. It is a surgical procedure, and should only be done if medically necessary. For most parents, a cesarean delivery will be offered if they have had a prior cesarean delivery, or if the baby is experiencing complications during labor. Cesarean delivery is designed to protect the baby’s well-being, and that should be foremost in this important decision. These studies, even though they may be new, lend support to that proposition.

Contact Us

The decision of whether and when to have a cesarean delivery is one that should be made in consultation with an obstetrician. If you have questions about whether a cesarean section should have been performed in the birth of your child, contact us at (440) 252-4399, or send us your questions online.

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