Babies Born Vaginally Could Be Protected From Allergies

Babies who are born vaginally are less likely to have allergies compared with those delivered via C-section, research suggests.

Researchers looked at the medical records of 158,422 children who were seen at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia over the past two decades.

The kids were either free of allergies, or had either eczema, a food allergy, asthma, allergic rhinitis, or a combination of all four.

Those who were delivered vaginally were less likely to have allergies than children who weren't. The data also showed children who were exclusively or partially breastfed were less likely to develop an allergy.

The study was presented as an abstract at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting in Houston and has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

A vaginal delivery is believed to pass healthy bacteria on to babies, which in turn boosts their immune systems. It is thought that babies delivered via C-section might miss out on these bugs, heightening their risk of developing allergies.

As such, some children undergo the controversial practice of seeding following birth. This involves placing a gauze swab inside the vagina during the c-section, which is rubbed on the child's face and body after birth.

Study co-author Dr. David Hill, an allergist and American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, told Newsweek: "There have been prior studies that have suggested links between environmental factors and allergic outcomes. Some of these factors are thought to influence the makeup of commensal bacteria that live in harmony on our skin and in our digestive tract. Delivery mode and feeding practices are two examples of such environmental factors."

He explained that while choosing between a vaginal birth or c-section isn't always an option, breastfeeding "even small amounts" could protect children from allergies.

"This result was an unexpected surprise, and supports supplemented breast-milk feeding when exclusive breast-milk feeding is not possible," he said.

However, Hill stressed: "Retrospective studies such as this one are not able to prove causation, we can simply measure association. To prove the protective effects of these environmental factors, a prospective study would be required."

Asked to give his advice to expectant mothers who might be concerned by the findings, he said: "It is not possible to control every environmental factor that our children are exposed too. There are also other factors (genetics, for example) that influence allergy development. Families should work with their pediatricians to develop an individualized plan that is both realistic and manageable."

He added: "This work adds to our understanding of the effects of delivery mode on various health outcomes."

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A stock image shows a mother holding her new baby in her arms. Researchers believe vaginal births could be beneficial for a baby's health. Getty