Children delivered by Cesarean section face twice the risk of developing allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk than other children, according to a report in the medical journal Allergy.
The thinking is that compared to infants born normally, children delivered by c-section are exposed less to maternal bacteria and their digestive tracts are consequently not colonized in the normal way. Their immune system in turn overreacts to allergenic substances.
Dr. Merete Eggesboe from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, and colleagues, who previously reported a similar association between cesarean delivery and egg, fish, and nut allergy, investigated possible links to cow milk allergy in 2656 participants in the Oslo Birth Cohort.
The team found that cow milk allergy or intolerance was twice as common among children delivered by Cesarean section compared to children delivered vaginally.
A C-section delivery is performed when a vaginal birth is not possible or is not safe for the mother or child.
Surgery is usually done while the woman is awake but anesthetized from the chest to the legs by epidural or spinal anesthesia. An incision is made across the abdomen just above the pubic area. The uterus is opened, the amniotic fluid is drained, and the baby is delivered.
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None of the children previously diagnosed with milk allergy or intolerance but deemed tolerant by age 2.5 years had been delivered by Cesarean section, the researchers note, suggesting that c-section makes it less likely that children will become tolerant.
“The results of the present study cannot be explained by differences between predisposed and not predisposed children and thus provides support for early intestinal colonization playing a role in the etiology of Food allergy,” the investigators conclude.
“We have started a study on the intestinal microflora in children, relating it to mode of delivery and development of allergic diseases,” Eggesboe told Reuters Health. “The aim is to study whether any of the observed differences in intestinal microflora tied to mode of delivery, is also associated with subsequent development of allergic disease.”
SURCE: Allergy, September 2005.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD