Another Study To Make Us All Feel Guilty About That C-Section

shutterstock_111643082A new study shows that birth via C-section can interfere with your child’s digestive function and cause allergies. Surprise, surprise – yet another study packing one more layer of mommy-guilt on us all.

Being born by cesarean section has been tied to higher risks for various health problems in children, and now a new study finds these babies also have fewer “good” bacteria in their digestive tract.

About a third of all U.S. births occur by c-section, a number considered by many to be far too high and potentially harmful to both the child and the mother.

Vaginal delivery, among other advantages, fosters the growth of trillions of good bacteria that reside peacefully in the human body (collectively know as a person’s microbiome), many of them in the intestine.

Meanwhile, c-sections interfere with the newborn’s exposure to bacteria in the vaginal tract, bacteria that essentially trains the immune system to react appropriately to future events, according to study background information.

Mothers who have c-sections also tend to start breast-feeding later and require antibiotics, both of which could also affect the baby’s microbiome.

Although a third of U.S. births occur via C-section, under 5% are elective – meaning scheduled in advance on the wishes of the mother – not mandated or required by some underlying health issue. Once again, women are being led down one path by the medical establishment, than guilt-tripped about the results that path has on the well-being of their babies.

Interventions that are becoming more and more common in hospitals such as inductions and epidural use are to blame for many of these surgical births. These practices can lead to complications which often result in surgery. Of course there are other issues – like obesity, multiple babies and increased age – but generally women aren’t going into labor expecting a C-section. A plethora of interventions and practices that may not be best for the mother but have become commonplace in U.S. hospitals are making instances of surgical birth rise.

I like to see these studies conducted because I am hoping they will help change the trend toward rushing women into surgical births that may not be best for their babies. But I don’t like women being guilted after the fact; rushed into surgical births and then shamed because their “choices” may be affecting the health of their babies.

It’s reminiscent of how we approach breastfeeding in this country. First, a woman is drilled for nine months about how important it is, then once the baby is born there is a lack of support, knowledgeable staff and lactation consultants around to make it happen. Not to mention the furor around breastfeeding in public. Sheesh.

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, ladies. Get used to it.

(photo: Twonix Studio/

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  • Mary

    Over reacting much? Aren’t you facinated how the body works? I’ve always been, anyway. I think it’s more interesting than it is annoying and unfair!

  • alice

    I don’t feel as strongly that this is “cesarean shaming.” As you said, c-sections are often not the woman’s choice. There’s no shame in having a surgical procedure which has been strongly recommended and/or required by your doctor in order to best protect your baby.

    On the other hand, if your doctor has led you to believe that there’s no significant benefit to vaginal vs surgical birth, and there IS, then these studies need to be out there. (Especially if they reduce elective induction rates, which are 50-70% more likely to result in c-sections)

    My friend had to have a c-section, after a (non-medically urgent) “suggested” induction by her doctor, followed by 38 hours of non productive labor and a handful of other interventions. I’m sure she feels disappointed that it all went that way, and probably wishes she didn’t go along with the induction. But I don’t think she feels shamed. She’s a Proud Mama!

    • BigBlue

      I wonder why nobody ever discusses the risks of vaginal birth. Reduced sexual function, incontinence, and the need for reconstructive surgeries down the road don’t seem trivial in my book. Why aren’t more women being informed of these risks?

    • alice

      hmmm, i’m pretty sure most ladies are aware that their vag is gonna be a
      dumpy potato sack for some time post vaginal birth, and might never return to its full glory.

    • TaargusTaargus

      By that same token, I’m pretty sure most women are aware that having a c-section is gonna result in health effects for the baby (missing that bacterial slide, not having the lungs compressed enough when exiting the vagina, etc.) and mother (longer healing time, potentially difficult complications from an abdominal surgery, etc.).

    • BigBlue

      Every time you turn around it’s another article screaming “C-SECTIONS ARE BAD!!!” but no one ever talks about how vaginal births can also have negative consequences. This is a subject close to me. I had a c-section, but my sister had 2 vaginal births at 19 and 24 years old. She was young, was healthy and fit, and her babies weren’t large at all (just over 7 pounds each). However there was so much damage done by both deliveries that she needed extensive surgery after the second one, and will need even more extensive surgery once she is sure she’s done having children. Now at 27 years old she has incontinence issues and, although she hasn’t specifically told me, I suspect it’s affected her sex life with her husband. Her OB strongly recommends a c-section for her should she want any more kids. I just don’t understand why these things aren’t talked about more. The worst part for her was how unexpected it all was. She was completely unprepared for what could happen.

    • alice

      i feel really bad for your sister and what she’s going through. i’m not sure if you’re talking about uterine prolapse, or perinial tearing, or something else altogether.

      certainly there are physical risks involved in vaginal births. and both prolapse and tearing are really very common, though rarely to the degree that they require reconstructive surgery. i don’t think that anyone feels that vaginal births are 100% risk free.

      assuming your sister’s situation was statistically rare (which i’m assuming since most vaginal births do not require extensive reconstructive surgery), do you feel that your sister may have opted against vaginal birth the first time around if her doctor vocalized there was a % chance (however small) that she would require extensive reconstructive surgery after birth?

      in the end it’s all about making an *informed* personal decision. i don’t care if someone plans to csection, vag, vbac, waterbirth, whatever (or even have an abortion) as long as they own it.

      i do care that there’s inevitably some form of angry pushback to EVERY published scientific study about my vagina or what comes out of it.

      “oh here we go again…SCIENCE has something else to say about MY VAGINA!”

      like could you imagine if people had the same angry reaction every time an scientific study speculated that xyz might increase risk for cancer? “oh here we go again…SCIENCE is trying to tell me what to EAT to reduce my risk of DYING OF CANCER!”

    • Katia

      I’ve had 3 and so far none of these problems. These problems aren’t trivial but I bet they are fairly rare. And compared to lifelong allergies or dangerous infections, maybe they are smaller issues

    • Katie

      I have terrible allergies. There’s no way in hell I’d rather have reduced sexual function, incontinence or the need for reconstructive surgery. Smaller issues my ass.

    • TaargusTaargus

      Maybe that’s why only 5% of women even chose to have a c-section, and the other 95% get no choice. It’s not as though the vast majority of women chose to increase the chances of those complications – the study shows the opposite to be true.

  • SusannahJoy

    Studies like this are important. It’s important for everyone, doctors and patients, to know what the risks are of any medical procedure, including c-sections. A woman shouldn’t feel guilty for choosing one procedure over another, especially if, as you pointed out, the vast majority aren’t choosing it, but they should be aware of what the consequences will be. And frankly, if I was in labor, and it wasn’t progressing, and my baby’s heart rate was dropping to unsafe levels, I’d still want the c-section. But I’d also like to know that my kid is now more likely to have problems with allergies, so I can be prepared for that. That’s not guilt, that’s just having all the information.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      It seems to be Mommyish’s MO to take any study with even remotely negative results as a personal attack against all moms and usually the writer, too.

    • K.

      Totally agree. I’m thankful that there are medical studies on C-sections (or really, anything regarding women’s health) and this is something that can factor into women’s decisions. I’m also a bit skeptical of how studies like this get reported simply because I think it’s difficult to ascertain without reading the actual report whether we’re talking about an actual causality or a correlation and oftentimes, the reporting makes it sound like something has much more dramatic consequences than it does. I mean, here it sounds like C-section = your baby will get sick (sort of like formula = your baby won’t be as smart).

      PS–your whole description of not progressing and the heart rate dropping and emergency c-section WAS my delivery. So I’m pretty darn grateful for the C-section.

  • Véronique Houde

    I don’t see any attempt on the part of the authors to try to actively guilt-trip women. No one can MAKE any one else feel a certain way – so if a woman feels guilty after reading an article reporting research findings, that’s on them. I’m glad that you’re talking about the research, because it’s important to talk about it. So often, women talk about other women wanting a more natural birth as trying to be a hero, whereas I think that more and more, women try and do what’s best for their children. Guilt only prevents change – because when you feel guilty about something, it stops you from taking ownership of a situation and moving forward. It would be fun to stop talking about all this nonsense guilt because women are always just trying to do what’s best – no one is going to say otherwise. This is only about having the most information posslble before making a decision that could have possible side-effects. It’s about taking back the power in the labour process, and making it our own again instead of surrendering all of our power to doctors. And before anyone says that I’m anti c-section and medical interventions, I’m not. I myself was strongly encouraged to be induced when I gave birth because my water broke, there was meconium in the water, and I was completely closed up.

  • Justme

    Meh. You can try and guilt trip me all you want, but my c-section daughter is perfect just the way she is. And if she someday develops an allergy or digestive issues, I will probably attribute it to the fact that her father has atrocious allergies and that my mother and I both have a propensity towards IBS and other similar issues. I won’t be looking at my 15-year-old child and lamenting the fact that I had a c-section….but instead looking towards solutions.

    • bumbler

      Oh, if only we all had conveniently corresponding family conditions to conceal the potential consequences of medical decisions we made. You’re right about focusing on solutions, but you’re wrong about brushing causality aside. What if your daughter decides to have Lasik surgery to correct her vision, and the surgery leads to blindness 15 years down the road? Does blindness run in your family? Should she forget about the potential cause (genetic or surgery), and ONLY focus on a solution? It’s not like anyone else should be made aware of the potential long term risks of Lasik, right? What’s done is done, just sweep it under the rug. It’s not like humans are meant to learn from their mistakes, nor evaluate their decisions, nor benefit the community by sharing their experiences anyways.

    • Justme

      It’s not a “conveniently corresponding family condition.” It’s not me sweeping anything under the rug. It’s me saying I’m not going to flog myself for the rest of my life that I had a c-section any time my daughter gets the sniffles or a stomachache.

      At what point to we start looking at genetics and lifestyle as the likely factor for an illness or disease instead of how a person was brought into this world or what they were fed the first year of their life?

      My forty-year-old brother has Type II Diabetes but my mother did not hear the news and immediately blame herself for his condition because she did not breastfeed him adequately as an infant. His condition is due to the fact that he eats fatty and fried food, always goes back for seconds after a generous first helping and he never exercises.

      If my daughter doesn’t get into Harvard someday I’m not going to be blaming myself for only breastfeeding her for four months. Her success in life isn’t going to be determined by how I gave birth or how much breastmilk I gave her. It will be the life lessons I’ve taught her along the way. The discipline and determination I’ve instilled in her. The ways that I’ve demonstrated kindness, respect and compassion for other human beings.

    • Melissa

      I agree with your assessment of your brother’s Type II Diabetes as being “his fault” for eating fatty and fried foods, doesn’t exercise, etc. to a degree. But there are plenty of people who can eat fatty and fried foods without developing this condition. In the past we would say that your brother has developed diabetes while others don’t because he has a genetic predisposition to the disease. This is still true. But groundbreaking research is showing that these genetic predispositions are often due to epigenetic factors from environmental exposures in the womb and at birth. So, like it or not, the decisions that we make as mothers during pregnancy and birth do make us ultimately responsible for our children’s chronic conditions that they develop 30 or 40 years later. That doesn’t mean that we need to flog ourselves or feel guilty for our choices as mothers all those years ago. Your brother, and your daughter, are still ultimately responsible for how they move forward in life based on their own choices. However, that misses the point of this study and others like it, whose purpose is to educate people about the long-term consequences of their present-day choices in an attempt to both understand what causes these diseases and also to prevent them.

    • Justme

      And those people who eat like that and don’t develop the condition might not have been breastfed either.

    • bumbler

      Yes, exactly~ It’s not about blame, it’s about acknowledging risk factors and accepting responsibility for your actions (which is not wallowing in guilt).

    • BigBlue

      Slow clap.

    • Justme

      *Bows shyly* Thank you.

    • bumbler

      repeatedly failing to acknowledge that the choices you make may have an effect on your child’s future is in fact sweeping it under the rug. You read my words and all you heard was “blame blame blame” which to me sounds more like “hidden guilt” on your part. If you don’t feel guilty, why so defensive? Why bring up guilt when I didn’t even mention it? Of course your mother doesn’t feel guilty for her son’s diabetes, what would be the point? However, it would be constructive for her (and more importantly scientists) to consider ALL the possible causes, including the actions she took in raising him. How can you not accept the rationality that a parent’s actions MAY be responsible for some part of their children’s outcomes? This isn’t just about YOU and YOUR child, it’s about cumulative information. Some babies who were born via csection end up with asthma and food allergies. This is important to know, and if we all coddled cotton-eared mommies like you and pretended like there’s nooo way A lead to B, the medical world would be a big fat question mark and there’d be a lot more sickness and disease in the world. I (obviously) take great offense to people who try to live with their heads stuck in the sand just to spare themselves the horror of being faced with just the mere POSSIBILITY of being responsible for their own actions. Your irrational and defensive stance of ‘not feeling guilty every time your daughter has a sniffle’ is grossly over simplifying the situation and I think you know that. It’s true that her overall success is not determined by how much breastmilk you gave her or how she was born, but those things ARE FACTORS in her overall intelligence and wellbeing, and rational people would like to be aware of these factors and their associated risks or benefits.

    • Justme


  • BigBlue

    I don’t feel guilty. I’d rather my son have allergies than us both be dead. I actually quite liked my c-section, and will happily schedule a repeat if I get pregnant again.

  • AP

    This doesn’t seem like a guilt trip, but a study that helps inform current medical recommendations and guidelines for OBGYNs to provide to pregnant women.

    I doubt anyone whose child was born safely through a necessary C-section will feel guilty that they had one. They’ll be happy that their child is alive and healthy, instead of dead or disabled due to the complications the C-section was trying to avoid.

  • Katia

    Surprise surprise. Yet another article telling us that a health related study is just there to make us feel guilty aka mommy shame us. You sure love using this formula for articles!

  • Tea

    I don’t see how a scientific study is in any way a guilt trip. They lay out the data, and that’s that, it’s up to you as to if you feel guilty of it.

  • chickadee

    I highly doubt that scientific studies are intending to c-section shame anyone — it is a study examining the effect of the presence of beneficial bacteria in newborns and the fact that both c-sections and formula feeding affects those levels. Simply because these results may make someone who has done one or both of these things feel guilty, that doesn’t make the study an “attack” on mothers. No one should feel guilty if she has had to have a c-section, or if breastfeeding didn’t work. But at least the study can alert you and others to possible risk factors.

  • bumbler

    One of my favorite quotes is “Science takes no sides, and no prisoners”. It’s trite to say a scientific study “shames” mothers. This study is the gift of knowledge to women and medical professionals, because it’s another drop of information that can help them make the best decisions regarding their medical treatment.

  • Melissa

    The results of this study are important for doctors to understand as well as pregnant women. Don’t assume that because it’s a medical-based study that it’s supported/understood by the medical community (believe me, as a researcher myself, research scientists and MDs often do not see eye to eye). In many cases, pregnant women are offered the a c-section by their doctor after several hours of stalled labor. Doctors often weigh their recommendations for this procedure based on the short-term benefit to risk ratio (i.e., mother doesn’t suffer as long, baby gets out faster, c-section is generally safe), but their recommendation doesn’t consider the long-term consequences. In addition, when a doctor has been on the L&D floor for over 24 hours with little sleep, their own decision-making processes are going to be skewed towards the quickest solution, and in this situation a doctor isn’t going to consider the impact of a potential increased risk for allergies 2-3 years down the line. I know you don’t want to think that your doctor is ordering you a c-section so that they can go home and sleep, but…when you consider that a c-section is generally safe these days, it seems like a solid plan that benefits mother, baby, and doctor alike. So use a study like this to be your own advocate – when a doctor is pushing for a c-section (whatever the reason may be), YOU need to be the one that considers both the short- and long-term benefit because YOU are the one that is taking that child home to raise.

    Of course there will still be cases where an emergency c-section is the best option. That’s not the point of this study.

    • TaargusTaargus

      I see your point, but I do have to say that “YOU need to be the one that considers both the short- and long-term benefit because YOU are the one that is taking that child home to raise” is a little bit problematic. Of course, this is completely anecdotal, but most of the people I know who have kids certainly aren’t science-literate enough to be the person pushing the doctor a certain way. For example, one could argue that insisting the doctor give pitocin and an epidural and then insisting the doctor not do a c-section when labor inevitably stalls could be signing her own death certificate. I would trust your suggestion more if people were generally more scientifically literate.

    • Melissa

      I agree that science and medicine needs to be more accessible to the science illiterate. Childbirth classes would be the perfect opportunity to education women on the choices that we have during labor (and such classes do cover these issues to a certain extent), but I know many women who skipped them because they trusted that their doctor would “know what’s best”. Not to say that doctors are untrustworthy, but I think anyone who is under the care of a doctor for any reason owes it to themselves to become educated on their condition and the procedures which they will undertake. Doctors are not infallible, and in the stressful, cognitively-demanding situations that they face every day, they are likely to make mistakes in determining the best course of action. There is a strong need for resources that can make this type of
      information available and understandable to the general population, so
      that people can ask their doctor questions at every stage of the
      decision making. Too often people are willing to accept their doctor’s recommendations without stopping to ask if there is another option. To a degree the science and medical community needs to make this information easier to access, but people are still ultimately responsible for their own ignorance.

    • TaargusTaargus

      I do agree with that. People should absolutely attend a childbirth class, both first-time moms and dads along with people who have 10+ years between children (since so much changes in that time). There is a difficult balance to strike between being your own advocate and allowing a doctor or nurse to use their extensive knowledge to make decisions for you (or with you).

  • msenesac

    I feel not a bit of guilt for my c-section (which was not elective). This article talks about one study. There is a new study out every week that contradicts another.

  • Katie

    Aw dammit! Why did I have to have that stupid c-section? I should have just let him die. That’s way better than having allergies!

    LOL, it’s just sarcasm people, don’t get mad.

    • Melissa

      I know you’re just joking, but the study and the article aren’t really targeted to you anyways. Obviously if you needed a c-section because the only other option was fetal (or maternal) demise, then that was the best possible choice. I think it would still be useful to know that the c-section has put your child at increased risks for certain diseases down the road so that you can use that knowledge to take precautions to prevent their development.

    • Katie

      You claim to know I’m just joking but then you say a bunch of crap that proves you don’t know I’m joking.

      You need to learn how to take a joke. Maybe a study can be done to help with that.

  • annalucia

    My brother came into this world premature and butt first. My sister was backwards and got stuck in the birth canal and required an emergeny c-section. By the time I was ready to be born my parents chose a scheduled c-section. We all grew up and are all perfectly healthy. There should be no shame to be felt for a c-section. As long as you are holding a happy healthy baby, then either way is fine.