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Allergies Linked to Where and How Babies Are Born

Birth type may impact infant health later in life. Photo by Fernando Audibert

A study recently published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology suggests there is a link between where and how a baby is born, and the possibility of children developing allergies.

It is believed that there is a relationship between intestinal bacteria and the likelihood of developing allergies.  Certain types of bacteria seem to increase the likelihood of allergies, others seem to decrease the likelihood.  Researchers in this study compared  intestinal bacteria of babies born vaginally at home, in the hospital, and via c-section, and then watched the groups to see who developed allergies over the first six or seven years. 

In a nutshell, babies born at home vaginally had the lowest incidence of allergies (such as environmental, food, asthma, or eczema), followed by babies born vaginally in the hospital.  Those born via c-section had the highest likelihood of developing allergies.

Why would this be?  It’s postulated that during the trip down the birth canal babies are exposed to bacteria, and that they are the “good” type of bugs that help prevent the development of allergies.  Home-birthed babies are then held first by mom and other family members.  In hospitals, they are typically soon in contact with medical people, introducing different bacteria.  C-section babies first encounter with bacteria after they are born through the medical staff.

This isn’t the final word on this topic; more research is needed.  However, it could go a long way in explaining why we’re seeing a dramatic increase in allergies these days.

I’m adding this to my list of reason why I’m happy with my decision to home birth my babies whenever possible. Assuming my iron levels test high enough next month of course.

In the absence of a homebirth, I would think that immediate breastfeeding would help prevent allergic responses in the baby as the gut will become colonized and fed with the colostrum. I also wonder whether mothers who have babies born via C-Section should be using probiotics with their infants to help create a healthier gut flora balance.

What do you think about the possible ramifications of these new findings? Do they surprise you?

Related topics: Could formula and solid foods prevent child allergies?

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