Infants delivered by Caesarean section have a 20 percent higher risk than normal deliveries of developing the most common type of diabetes in childhood, say researchers from Queen's University Belfast.
The team, led by Dr Chris Cardwell and Dr Chris Patterson, found the increase could not be explained by factors such as birth weight, the age of the mother, order of birth, gestational diabetes and whether the baby was breast-fed or not, all factors associated with childhood diabetes in previous studies.
"This study revealed a consistent 20 per cent increase in the risk of Type 1 diabetes. It is important to stress that the reason for this is still not understood. It is possible that children born by Caesarean section differ from other children with respect to some unknown characteristic which consequently increases their risk of diabetes, but it is also possible that Caesarean section itself is responsible," said Dr Cardwell.
Because Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, Dr Cardwell speculates that being born by Caesarean section may affect the development of the immune system because babies are first exposed to bacteria originating from the hospital environment, rather than to maternal bacteria.
"Not all women have the choice of whether to have a Caesarean section or not, but those who do may wish to take this risk into consideration before choosing to give birth this way. We already know that genetics and childhood infections play a vital role in the development of Type 1 diabetes in children, but the findings of this study indicate that the way a baby is delivered could affect how likely it is to develop this condition later in life," the study's authors concluded.
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Source: Queen's University Belfast