A new study has identified a significant link between being born via Caesarean delivery and increased risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.
This could be due to differences in the type of microbes girls born naturally are exposed to in the mother’s birth canal, the researchers say.
Findings applied not only to high-risk Caesarean births but also to moms in low-risk groups and involved a study of 33 000 women aged between 24 and 44.
The research, published on Monday in the journal Jama Network Open, didn't examine the impact C-sections have on men and can’t say whether it would be the same as for women.
While previous studies have linked Caesarean delivery and an increased risk of childhood obesity, this was the first research to track health outcomes much later in life, with the participants born between 1946 and 1964.
It's also the first time a study has linked type 2 diabetes with Caesarean delivery, the authors said.
Sometimes C-sections are medically necessary, meaning either the life of the mother or her baby would be endangered by a vaginal birth. But several studies have found surgical births are being performed for low-risk pregnancies, too.
Referring to the recent study, Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King’s College London, who wasn’t involved in the research, warned against moms-to-be opting for C-section delivery merely because it’s more convenient.
"Women shouldn’t be concerned about delivering by C-section when needed. However, this does add to the evidence that there could be harmful effects of choosing C-section as a routine," he told CNN.
According to a recent study by the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), South Africa has among the highest rates of C-section births in the world.
Almost 77% of babies covered by South African medical schemes are delivered by Caesarean section – which is almost three times the 26% average for SA’s public hospitals.
By comparison the Netherlands has a C-section rate of only 16%, with Sweden at 18%, France at 21%, Spain at 25%, the UK at 26%, and Germany at 30%.
The single biggest driver of C-sections in private health in South Africa is the fear of being sued, says Stellenbosch gynaecologist Dr Johannes van Waart, a former president of the SA Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (Sasog).
Van Waart estimates that 98% of all legal claims related to obstetrics involve vaginal births.
Given the threat of legal claims and the financial risk, obstetricians are simply unwilling to do a natural delivery with a reasonable chance of complications, he says.
But professor Lut Geerts of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Stellenbosch University says both doctors and mothers may underestimate the potential risks of C-sections to both mother and baby - which is contributing to the sky-high rate.
“It also seems like some women are not aware of the advantages of a vaginal birth for their infant.”