Babies born by caesarean section could be more likely to develop type 1 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic conditions, according to new research.
The study, which was published in The BMJ, did not find a direct causal link between caesarean section and chronic conditions. In other words, C-sections do not necessarily cause the problems. But there is a strong correlation, strong enough that pregnant mothers should feel free to discuss the risk with their doctor.
C-sections should only be used for about 15 per cent of pregnancies, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), because this is roughly the proportion of cases in which surgical intervention is necessary to protect the health of either the mother or baby during complicated births.
But in many countries – including Italy, Australia, and the US – C-sections are used for around 30 per cent of births. According to the WHO, this is too high, and could possibly be causing unnecessary health issues in many children.
2.13 out of every 1,000 babies born by C-section go on to develop type 1 diabetes, the researchers found, compared to 1.79 per 1,000 infants delivered without C-section. Regarding obesity, the figure was 19.4 compared to 15.8.
There is no definitive understanding of why C-section births might cause chronic health problems. One of the most prominent theories is that mothers pass good bacteria to their children through vaginal births; these good bacteria are not transmitted through C-section births.
Because of the increasing evidence that C-section birth could compromise the health of children, the researchers recommend that practice guidelines regarding baby delivery be revised to reflect the risk.
“Prospective parents want a delivery that is safe for the baby,” wrote the authors. “In emergencies, or when a foetal or maternal indication is present, the choice is clear.
“But in cooler moments, such as repeat maternal choice of caesarea, it makes sense to consider the risks and benefits of caesarean versus vaginal delivery, just as we would for other medical treatments.
“To date, concerns around long term child health have largely focused on neurological impairment. But recent research points to latent risks for chronic disease: children delivered by caesarean have a higher incidence of type 1 diabetes, obesity, and asthma […] a detailed assessment of these risks should be taken into account in guidelines for caesarean delivery.”

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