Could mothers' bacteria protect c-section babies from obesity risk?

April 11, 2017 by Nicola Shepheard
Could mothers’ bacteria protect c-section babies from obesity risk?

A team of New Zealand researchers will investigate whether bacteria from mothers' vaginas could protect babies born by caesarean section from a greater risk of obesity.

There is growing evidence linking c-sections to an increased risk of the baby later developing obesity and immune disorders. A large international study last year found children born by were up to 25 percent more likely to become obese than those born by .

Now a research team led by Professor Wayne Cutfield at the University of Auckland-based Liggins Institute have received $150,000 from the Health Research Council to test a possible reason for this link.

"The hypothesis is that babies born by c-section miss out on receiving health-promoting from their mother's vagina during birth," says Professor Cutfield.

All babies are born with next to no bacteria. During normal delivery their mother's bacteria colonises them, forming the basis for the baby's own microbiome – the total bacteria that live inside and on the surface of our bodies, now recognised as playing a crucial role in our health and wellbeing.

But babies born by c-section are colonised only with the other bacteria they come into contact with – from surfaces they touch, from other people's hands. These bacteria may not have the health-promoting qualities that bacteria from the mother's vagina do.

The Liggins Institute-led study will involve 40 sets of twins born by c-section in Auckland over the next two years. In each set, one twin only will swallow a saline solution containing the bacteria from a swab inserted in the mother's vagina during labour.

Dr Valentina Chiavaroli, a research fellow at the Institute who will be conducting the study, explains the team has a narrow window to introduce the mother's bacteria in the first hour or so after birth, when babies' stomachs are not yet acidic, allowing the bacteria to reach and colonise the bowel.

"As far as we know, this is the first study in the world to use this method," she says. "Anecdotally, you hear of mothers asking for their babies to be swabbed with vaginal fluid, but we don't know how much of that actually reaches the babies' gut."

Researchers will then analyse the in the babies' stools, repeating the test several times up to the age of three months to check if any changes are persistent.

"We expect that the gut bacteria population of the treated twin will be more diverse than the bacteria in the untreated sibling, and more like the gut bacteria of babies born by vaginal delivery," says Dr Chiavaroli.

"There is evidence that more diverse gut bacteria are protective against various health problems, including obesity," she says.

"With one in four – around 15,000 – born by c-section every year in New Zealand, the potential benefits are substantial," says Professor Cutfield.

"This could correct the effect of c-section on obesity risk and contribute to preventing childhood obesity – and prevention is a whole lot more effective than trying to treat it when it's established."

The study will commence later this year and run for two years.

Explore further: Increased demand for 'vaginal seeding' from new parents, despite lack of evidence

Related Stories

Increased demand for 'vaginal seeding' from new parents, despite lack of evidence

February 23, 2016
Doctors are seeing a rise in the number of parents requesting so-called 'vaginal seeding' for babies born by caesarean section, according to an editorial in the BMJ.

Caesarean section delivery may double risk of childhood obesity

May 23, 2012
Caesarean section delivery may double the risk of subsequent childhood obesity, finds research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Caesarean babies are more likely to become overweight as adults

February 26, 2014
Babies born by caesarean section are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults, according to a new analysis.

Study tries to give C-section babies mom's germs they missed (Update)

February 1, 2016
Sharing bacteria in the operating room normally is a no-no but in a novel experiment, researchers are giving babies born by C-section a dose of presumably protective germs from mom's birth canal.

Pet exposure may reduce allergy and obesity

April 6, 2017
If you need a reason to become a dog lover, how about their ability to help protect kids from allergies and obesity?

How the way you're born and fed affect your immune system

October 13, 2016
We used to think foetuses had no bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract (the gut) until they began to accumulate microbes (bacteria, viruses and other bugs) on their way through their mother's vagina.

Recommended for you

Is rushing your child to the ER the right response?

October 16, 2017
If a child gets a small burn from a hot pan, starts choking or swallows medication, parents may struggle to decide whether to provide first aid at home or rush them to the hospital, suggests a new national poll.

Happier mealtimes, healthier eating for kids

October 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Parents who struggle to get their children to follow a healthy diet may want to make dinnertime a pleasant experience, new research suggests.

Children born prematurely have greater risk of cognitive difficulties later in life

October 11, 2017
Babies born preterm have a greater risk of developing cognitive, motor and behavioural difficulties and these problems persist throughout school years, finds a new study led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Helping preemies avoid unnecessary antibiotics

October 5, 2017
(HealthDay)—Researchers say they have identified three criteria that suggest an extremely premature infant has a low risk of developing sepsis, which might allow doctors to spare these babies early exposure to antibiotics.

Got a picky eater? How 'nature and nurture' may be influencing eating behavior in young children

October 3, 2017
For most preschool-age children, picky eating is just a normal part of growing up. But for others, behaviors such as insisting on only eating their favorite food item—think chicken nuggets at every meal—or refusing to ...

Anxious moms may give clues about how anxiety develops

September 27, 2017
Moms may be notorious worriers, but babies of anxious mothers may also spend more time focusing on threats in their environment, according to a team of researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.