Why Are Some Babies at a Higher Risk for Childhood Obesity?

It was not until 1881 that the first modern C-section (or cesarean section) was performed by German gynecologist Ferdinand Kehrer.

Since then, C-section deliveries have become more common, rising 48% since 1996. According to 2007 statistics, nearly 32% of all births in the United States were born through C-section. (1)

A baby born via C-section has double the risk of becoming obese by the age of three compared to a baby born vaginally.

Our ability to safely perform a C-section delivery has undoubtedly saved countless lives since its modernization. However, elective C-section deliveries are associated with a higher risk of infant mortality within the first 28 days of life. (2)

Unfortunately, C-section babies are also at a higher risk for developing a lifetime of metabolic disorders. One recent study found a correlation between childhood obesity and C-section delivery. (3)

C-section Delivery Exposes Baby to Unfriendly Bacteria

Today, over one third of babies are born via C-section. As a result, a C-section baby is more likely to suffer from childhood obesity since C-section delivery and antibiotics administered during birth can interfere with microbial diversity in a newborn.

During a C-section delivery, one to two incisions are made through the abdomen and through the uterus in order to reach the baby. Delivery involves pulling the baby from the uterus, rather than guiding the baby through the vaginal canal.

It is believed that before birth, a fetus exists in a sterile environment, free from yeast and bacteria. As a fetus moves through the birth canal, all of the microorganisms living in the mother’s vaginal canal coat the newborn baby. Most of these microorganisms are highly beneficial. (4)

When a child is born naturally, the first exposure to the outside world happens through the mother: her birth canal and the microorganisms that reside there.

This first exposure is one important part of the immune system’s education process. Essentially, the microorganisms living in and on the mother are transferred to her newborn, generating the first, of many, communities of friendly microflora that work with the baby’s body to create a nourishing environment while fighting off infection.

As it turns out, studies have determined that infants born through cesarean section are colonized by completely different microorganisms – namely, those commonly found on the skin rather than those found in the birth canal. (4)

One of the most remarkable differences between a vaginal birth and a C-section birth is the microbial community that populates the newborn. (5)

C-section Babies Are More Likely to Suffer from Childhood Obesity

A new study suggests that babies born by C-section are at higher risk of obesity in early childhood compared to those born vaginally.

Authors of the study collected data from 1,255 children at age three. They compared the body weights and body composition of those born through C-section to those born naturally.

Researchers found that at age three, just over 15% of children delivered by C-section were obese compared with 7.5% of children born vaginally. It turns out that the obesity rates were more than doubled for C-section babies.

Because a number of outside factors could influence the relationship between C-section delivery and childhood obesity, the authors of the study accounted for things like the age of the mother, her education, and pre-pregnancy weight, as well as child age, sex, and birth weight.

With all of these factors equal, a baby born via C-section had double the risk of being obese by the age of three compared to a baby born vaginally.

Our Weight Can Depend on Our Inner Ecosystem

In the past decade, science has determined that we are more bacteria than we are human. Or, in other words, bacteria outnumber our own cells 10 to 1. (6) As you may have guessed, this large population of microbial guests influences the human body at a fundamental level.

When it comes to whether we are obese or lean, it turns out that the bacteria in gastrointestinal tract play a deciding role. (7) Beneficial microbes do more than help us digest food; they also keep us slim.

While several mechanisms are involved, we know that certain bacteria simply harvest more energy from food than others. (8)

Microbial diversity, how many different species of bacteria the gut houses, has also been found to contribute to obesity. (9) It turns out that the more toxic and acidic the body is, the more likely it is to suffer from bacterial overgrowth and a lack of microbial diversity.

Unfortunately, the course of antibiotics given routinely during C-section delivery interferes with microbial diversity. Researchers speculate that this is one more factor contributing to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

What to Do If a C-section Delivery Is Unavoidable

No mother wants to put her child at risk for obesity or any other metabolic disorder.

So far, the research is overwhelming: gut bacteria play a leading role in the development of obesity. So what can you do to maximize you child’s health?

Focus on exposing your newborn to beneficial bacteria. This means:

  • If possible, deliver your baby naturally through the birth canal.
  • Breastfeed your baby for as long as possible. Breast milk is full of immune-boosting factors, including beneficial microorganisms
  • If necessary, supplement.

If you were unable to deliver your baby vaginally, or if you must feed your baby formula, even a probiotic-enriched formula, be sure and offer your newborn one or two drops of a high quality fermented liquid by placing the juice on your baby’s lips or tongue.

You can use Body Ecology fermented beverages, like Innergy Biotic.

Other options include homemade kvass or the juice from a batch of homemade cultured vegetables. A drop or two of this sour, probiotic-dense liquid is just enough to introduce a wide spectrum of beneficial microbes to your baby’s digestive tract.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

C-sections have become common in the past century, with more than 32% of all births in the US born through C-section in 2007. While C-sections are critical to save lives in some situations, routine C-sections leave babies at a higher risk for developing metabolic disorders with a new correlation to childhood obesity.

When a baby is not born through a mother’s birth canal, they are exposed to unfriendly bacteria through a C-section. Additionally, babies born via C-section have double the risk of becoming obese by the age of three compared to babies born vaginally.

It should come as no surprise that bacteria in the digestive tract can determine whether or not we are obese by helping us to digest efficiently and maintain a healthy weight.

Even if a C-section delivery is unavoidable, you can boost your baby’s inner ecosystem to fight childhood obesity with the following tips:

  • Deliver a baby naturally, if possible.
  • Breastfeed as long as possible to boost immunity with beneficial microorganisms.
  • When necessary, supplement with one or two drops of homemade cultured vegetable juice on your baby’s lips or tongue.
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  1. Births: Preliminary Data for 2007. CDC: National Center for Health Statistics.
  2. MacDorman, M. F., Declercq, E., Menacker, F. and Malloy, M. H. Infant and Neonatal Mortality for Primary Cesarean and Vaginal Births to Women with “No Indicated Risk, United States, 1998–2001 Birth Cohorts. Birth. 2006; 33: 3 (175–182).
  3. Huh SY, Rifas-Shiman SL, Zera CA, Edwards JW, Oken E, Weiss ST, Gillman MW. Delivery by caesarean section and risk of obesity in preschool age children: a prospective cohort study. Arch Dis Child. 2012 Jul;97(7):610-6.
  4. Ravel J et al. Vaginal microbiome of reproductive-age women. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011; 108: 4680–4687.
  5. Dominguez-Bello MG, Costello EK, Contreras M, Magris M, Hidalgo G, Fierer N, Knight R. Delivery mode shapes the acquisition and structure of the initial microbiota across multiple body habitats in newborns. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2010; 107: 11971–11975.
  6. Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Hamady M, Fraser-Liggett CM, Knight R, Gordon JI. The human microbiome project. Nature. 2007; 449: 804–810.
  7. PJ Turnbauch, et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature. 2006 Dec 21;444(7122):1027
  8. Turnbaugh PJ et al. A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins. Nature. 2009a; 457: 480–484
  9. I Cho, et al. The human microbiome: at the interface of health and disease. Nat Rev Genet. 2012 Mar 13;13(4):260-70
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