Search icon


04th Mar 2018

Another study suggests mum’s natural bacteria is incredible for baby

Louise Carroll

It turns out bacteria from mum during childbirth really could be extraordinary stuff.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne studied the cognitive performance of 5000 Australian students who had been born both vaginally and by caesarean. They found children who were born by C-section showed delays in grammar, reading and writing skills as well as numeracy skills between the ages of four and nine.

The potential cause? The bacteria ingested by baby during birth.

Neurophysiologist, Professor Joel Bornstein, who co-authored the research explained that babies born vaginally are exposed to, and ingest, bacteria from their mother’s vagina and faecal matter, while babies born by C-section are exposed to bacteria from their mother’s skin and hospital surfaces within the delivery room.

“The bacteria species that colonise the gut are quite different between the two populations,” he said.

Researchers tested the quality of their results by excluding mums who had to have caesareans due to health risks that could affect the child’s development, but results remained the same.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the study’s co-author Dr Cain Polidano spoke about his own two sons aged 12 and 14. Both were born by caesarean and are doing very well in school. It’s important to know this research shows a correlation rather than causation. He also put an emphasis on how a happy, healthy home life plays a big role too.

“We see this consistently in the data. It’s not clear whether those differences [in cognitive development] will close or open up.”

In other words, this delay in skills could come to a close at a later time during a child’s development and this study needs to be delved into much further to fully understand the birthing impact.

The World Health Organisation recommends a caesarean birth rate of no more than 10-15 percent. Within the western world and Ireland it currently stands around 30 percent.

Speaking to us here at HerFamily, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Fionnuala Breathnach said,

“The link that is described does not imply that the caesarean delivery caused a reduction in school performance, and the authors are careful to emphasise this fact. Importantly, there are caesarean deliveries that are performed in order to optimise neurologic and cognitive outcome for babies, for example, a growth-restricted baby who needs to deliver preterm because of placental failure, and who cannot safely be exposed to the stresses of labour.”

Professor Breathnach went on to say,

“However, any data that emerges indicating a possible link between any adverse long term effect and mode of delivery underpins that importance of ensuring that there is sufficient justification for performing any caesarean. “