Babies born via C-section at higher risk for infections, study suggests

Infants born via Cesarean section may be at higher risk of developing infections that require hospitalization, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine.

Researchers analyzed data on 7.2 million births in Denmark, Scotland, England and Australia between 1996 and 2015. About 1.7 million births were by C-section, of which 43 percent were elective. Researchers followed children through age 5 to determine how many were hospitalized for an infection.

Researchers controlled for several factors that may affect infection risk — like economic status, birthweight and gestational diabetes — but lacked data on breastfeeding, vaccination or postnatal smoke exposure, which could also affect rates. 

Overall, children born via an elective C-section had a 13 percent higher risk of an infection-related hospitalization than those born vaginally. This risk was 9 percent higher for children born via an emergency C-section. Infection rates were highest for respiratory, gastrointestinal and viral infections. 

"This is not about telling women how to deliver, or making them feel guilty about how they deliver their babies," senior author David Burgner, PhD, a senior research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, told The New York Times. "That decision is for the woman in consultation with her doctor. This is a large-scale observational study that shows a small but consistent risk."

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