We’ve talked before about birth interventions and their impact on maternal health. But a new study, believed to be the first of its kind, is looking at the implications of birth interventions on the long-term health of children, and the results are sobering. Researchers found that children born through medical interventions are at a higher risk of developing long-term health problems than kids who were born without medical interventions.

The study examined the effects of birth interventions (both medical and surgical) on long-term child health.

Western Sydney University and a team of international researchers collaborated on the groundbreaking study. They looked at nearly 500,000 low-risk, healthy women and their children who were born in New South Wales between 2000 – 2008. Researchers then followed the children’s health until 2013. For the study, researchers defined medical intervention as surgical (c-section), using forceps or vacuums during delivery, or using hormones or medicine to start to speed up labor. They did not include the use of epidurals or other pain management techniques.

They found that babies born via instrumental interventions experienced health problems within the first 28 days of life. But also, 5 years out, babies born via c-section (particularly emergency c-sections) had the highest rates of health issues.

Western Sydney University Professor of Midwifery Hannah Dahlen says, “We found in the first 28 days that babies who were born by instrumental birth — forceps and vacuums — following induction or having their labour sped up, have the highest jaundice and feeding problems. Babies born by caesarean section had the highest rate of having a low temperature requiring medical intervention.” Additionally, at five years, babies born via c-section had the highest rates of health problems, such as obesity and diabetes. Says Dahlen, “We found that things like respiratory infection like pneumonia and bronchitis, diabetes, obesity and eczema … these were highest among children who experienced any form of intervention compared to spontaneous vaginal birth.”

However, researchers involved in the study say their intention is not to put pressure on women. The push for “natural” vaginal birth can make women feel pressured into making decisions they’re not comfortable with, or lead to ignoring real risk in some cases.

Professor Dahlen says the goal of the study is to make sure women have all the information possible to make informed decisions. She says, “Currently in maternity care when we inform women about risk when it comes to intervention we tell them about short-term risks. We are not ever having a conversation about potential long-term risks. And that’s the concern; women and their partners are making a decision based on half the information and they need the full picture.”

There are real risks involved in childbirth, and birth interventions can mean the difference between life and death for many, many women and babies.

But they’ve also become the standard of care for a lot of doctors, which is problematic. It’s important to understand the risks, both short- and long-term, so you know you’re making the best, most informed decision for yourself and your children.

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(Image: iStock / mvaligursky)