Research shows that the delivery method is linked to how a baby will react to two crucial childhood vaccines.
Natural babies had higher levels of antibodies than those who were born via Caesarian Section. This is because they received their jabs, which protect against bacteria that can cause meningitis and lung infections.
Experts say that the findings could inform conversations between expectant mothers about C-sections and their doctors as well as the design of more targeted vaccination programmes.
Researchers examined the relationship between microbes in the gut and antibody levels following vaccination of 120 babies. They were vaccinated at eight and twelve weeks for meningitis and lung infections.
The researchers tracked the development of the gut microbiome – the community of microbes that lives in our body – in the child’s first year of life and their immune response to the vaccines by testing saliva samples at 12 and 18 months.
Researchers were from the University of Edinburgh and Spaarne hospital in Utrecht, as well as the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (The Netherlands) who conducted the research.
The investigators discovered that the vaccine that protects against lung infections had doubled the antibodies in 101 babies.
Breastfeeding was associated with 3.5x higher levels of antibodies than formula-fed children, who were born naturally.
Tests on 66 infants revealed that the vaccine that protects against Meningitis caused an increase in antibodies. Experts found that the antibodies levels were 1.7x higher in babies born naturally than in those born via C-section.
The microbiome in the gut develops quickly over the first few years of life. This is due to factors such as delivery mode, breastfeeding, antibiotic use, and other influences.
The researchers found a strong relationship between the levels of antibodies and microbes in those babies’ guts.
For example, among a host of bacteria in the gut, high levels of two in particular – Bifidobacterium and E. Coli – were associated with a high antibody response to the vaccine that protects against lung infections.
A high level of E. Coli was also associated with an increased antibody response to the vaccine against meningitis.
Natural birth is when the baby gets the E.coli and Bifidobacterium bacteria. Human milk is required to supply the sugars necessary for the bacteria to thrive.
The team concludes that the babies’ microbiome in early life contributes the immune system’s response to the vaccines and sets the level of protection against certain infections in childhood.
Vaccination schedules could also be adjusted based on mode of delivery or an analysis of the baby’s microbiome in the future, experts say.
Nature Communications has published the results of this research. It was funded by Scotland’s Chief Scientist Office and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.
Dr Emma de Koff, first author and microbiology trainee at the Amsterdam University Medical Center, said: “We expected to find a link between the gut microbiome and the babies’ vaccine responses, however we never thought to find the strongest effects in the first weeks of life.”
Professor Debby Bogaert study lead and Chair of Paediatric Medicine at the University of Edinburgh said “I think it is especially interesting that we identified several beneficial microbes to be the link between mode of delivery and vaccine responses. In the future, we may be able to supplement those bacteria to children born by C-section shortly after birth through, for example, mother-to-baby ‘fecal transplants’ or the use of specifically designed probiotics.”