Study Suggests C-Sections Might Slow Newborn Brain Development

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C-sections have become increasingly common for American mothers. While c-sections accounted for only 5.5 percent of all births in 1970, that figure rose to 32.8 percent by 2010. Much of this increase could reflect advances better in technology that shows when a c-section is necessary. But some doctors might order c-sections when they are not entirely necessary.

A new study from researchers at Yale suggests that c-sections might deprive newborns of proteins that are important for brain growth and development. This would mean that doctors are potentially harming newborns by giving c-sections when they are not necessary because of birthing complications or other conditions.

The research looked at mice and compared the levels of a protein called UCP2. By looking at mice born naturally with those born via surgery, the study concluded that natural birth might help boost levels of the important protein. This is because mice born vaginally had much higher levels of UCP2.

UCP2 helps newborn mammals in several ways. It boosts brain development and helps babies metabolize fat. The researchers say that UCP2 is such a basic protein that they expect it to function similarly in human infants as it does in mice.

The implication of this research is that doctors should maybe think twice before ordering an unnecessary c-section. Newborn mice with lower levels of UCP2 behaved very differently from mice that were born naturally: they were anxious, less curious about surroundings, and showed less ability to solve maze puzzles. Unnecessary c-sections might do an enormous disservice to parents and babies.

Of course, many other biological differences separate mice from humans and the study does not conclude that c-sections have the same negative impact on newborn people. But the researchers do want to expand the project to look at other mammals, including humans, to determine whether natural birth demonstrates the same UCP2 and brain growth benefits in other species.

Source: The Plain Dealer, “C-sections may not provide the brain development benefits of vaginal birth: Discoveries,” Brie Zeltner, Oct. 9, 2012

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