C-sections may affect babies' cognition

Researchers have shown that babies' delivered via a caesarean section have altered concentration capabilities compared to those born vaginally.

Dr Scott Adler and colleagues at the Department of Psychology and Centre for Vision Research at York University, Canada, have shown that a baby's spatial attention is influenced by method of birth.

Spatial attention is used to describe how well we are able to prioritize and focus on one particular area or object of interest.

It is known that very early birth factors such as baby weight at birth, method of feeding, use of epidural, and mother's age - to name only a few - impact the development of a child.

However, very little is known about how the method of delivery of the child affects the baby's cognitive function and brain development.

The study involved different groups of 3-month-old babies.

Their eye movement was assessed as an indicator of when the child's attention was held. Our eyes move to where our attention is directed, thus disruption of eye movement would suggest disrupted attention.

A target was placed at the edge of their eye line and the child's eyes would then quickly turn towards the place where the target was presented.

The babies born via caesarean were found to be slower in response to target presentation compared to those born vaginally. This early study is somewhat limited with only 24 participants and it has not yet been determined if this effect lasts throughout a lifetime.

These results, however, would indicate that the birth experience itself impacts the early state of brain functioning and development, and should be taken into consideration upon choosing delivery methods for birth.

The rate of caesarean delivery over vaginal delivery is increasing the world over, and is a growing global concern.

A study performed by the World Health Organisation in 2008 found that 6.2 million unnecessary caesarean sections were performed that year, costing $2.32 billion.

Contrast this with the 3.18 million required caesarean births that cost $432 million, and it becomes clear that unnecessary caesareans command a disproportionate share of global economic resources.

Dr Adler suggests some of the reasons to explain this sudden increase in caesarean births are, "More women are choosing planned c-sections, women are having babies later in life, and the modern western diet is increasing the number of pregnancy complications and producing larger babies."

There is much work still to be done in this exciting area of study and many questions still to be answered.

Dr Adler commented, "In many emergency c-sections, the infant experiences partial labour, in which case they receive part of the birth experience - is that enough? Would experiencing part of the birth experience ameliorate the effect on attention and be sufficient for initializing the relevant brain development? Future research must answer this question in order for the effect uncovered in this study to have more medical usefulness."

There are of course circumstances where vaginal delivery is simply not an option - complications threatening the survival of mother or child are the main reasons for doing a caesarean in the first place.

However, it is when women are offered the choice that we should perhaps consider whether the method of delivery may have long-term effects on a child's health.


Image Credit: http://mrg.bz/2gSyF7

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