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Medical Files
CS babies may have weaker immune systems

By Rafael Castillo, MD
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:49:00 03/06/2009

Filed Under: Health, Lifestyle & Leisure

SOME mothers prefer to deliver their babies by Caesarian section or CS, thinking that it can spare them hours of painful labor. They can even choose the birthdates of their babies. So convenient, but not quite expedient if one thinks of the baby?s best interest. Recent scientific data suggest that a CS delivery bypasses certain natural provisions for the development of a stronger immune system in babies.

Prof. Bengt Bjorksten, from the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Sweden, recently gave a series of lectures which addressed the issue about differences in the immune systems of infants who are born vaginally?the normal way, and those delivered by CS.

Immune system

The immune system is our built-in ?armed forces? that protect the body from various ailments. Any harmful foreign substances such as disease-causing bacteria or viruses are met with resistance and neutralized by a strong immune system. Development of a healthy immune system during the first year of life is crucial to maintaining a strong immune system into adulthood.

According to Professor Bjorksten, who is an internationally renowned authority on pediatric immunology, a baby?s immune system must be developed right at birth to be strong against both allergy-causing substances (allergens) and infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses. And a normally born baby gets a strong advantage than babies delivered by CS.

The baby comes in contact with good bacteria in the birth canal during delivery, and swallows these good bacteria, which then multiply in his gut. ?These are some of the most important probiotic health-promoting bacteria,? Professor Bjorksten stressed.

Our intestines are actually the body?s largest immune organ, with a good portion of our antibody-producing cells located in the gastro-intestinal tract or GIT. Most of our body?s systems though are dormant and requires something to activate them.

In the case of the immune-system cells in the GIT, the gut?s good bacteria?especially bifidobacteria?help stimulate these cells to produce antibodies that will protect the baby against allergies and infections. The rapidly multiplying bifidobacteria also help crowd out and overwhelm the harmful disease-producing bacteria in the gut.

Professor Bjorksten described this immune system activation in babies during normal delivery as a crucial starting point. ?This is a most significant driving force for stimulating the maturation of the immune system, and if this changed, the entire maturation process is slowed down,? he explained.

Natural activation

It is unfortunate that this important natural activation of the baby?s immune system is not enjoyed by babies delivered by CS. And recent studies have indicated a trend toward CS babies having lower levels of bifidobacteria in their guts compared to newborns delivered normally.

It?s reported that CS born babies take about six months to build the bifidobacteria levels in their guts that infants born normally acquire in only 10 days. Professor Bjorksten said this is a key factor why allergies, insulin-dependent diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and other types of infections may be relatively more common in CS born babies.

So, unless nature itself prevents a normal delivery, mothers should not attempt to disregard nature?s recommendation on how babies should be delivered, and that is, through the vaginal canal. There are medical indications though for CS birth, and these are:

? when a mother?s pelvic structure cannot accommodate passage of the body;

? when the baby is in a breech position or ?suhi,? wherein the baby?s feet or buttocks come ahead of the head;

? when the mother has undergone more than one CS delivery;

? when a fetus is simply too big;

? when the placenta or ?inunan? is between the baby and the birth canal;

? when prolonged labor threatens the safety of the mother or infant, or both.

What can be the second best option to naturally activate a baby?s immune system if he?s delivered by CS? The best solution available to help build the immune system in babies is by feeding him breast milk.

No one can argue against it that breast milk is still the ?gold standard? in nutrition for infants, regardless of how they are born. Mothers secrete a yellowish fluid from their breast during the first three days after birth, which is loaded with antibodies that protect babies and offers them significant benefits. This is called the colostrums; and this important dose of natural antibodies for the babies should never be missed.

Breast milk

According to Professor Bjorksten, as newborn babies breastfeed, their mothers? milk increases in volume, providing bifidobacteria needed to support the development of their immune systems, as well as proteins, vitamins and minerals that are most suitable for their unique nutritional needs.

So breast milk, which is important to the development, growth and health of infants, is even more important for CS babies, to help build their immune systems to fight allergies, infections and other illnesses.

Professor Bjorksten?s highly informative series of lectures was made possible through a grant from the Nestlé Nutrition Institute or NNI, a group of scientists and researchers who independently engage in scientific activities to share new information, education and training.

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