A new study has found for the first time that there is a significant link between medical interventions such as caesarean section and induction during birth and increased risk of long-term health problems in children.

Carried out by an international research team, the study was led by Western Sydney University along with collaborators from University Medical Center Groningen and VU Medical Center (Netherlands), Flinders University (South Australia), UCLAN University (UK), Sydney University and the University College Cork (Ireland).

With spontaneous vaginal birth rates decreasing worldwide, and caesarean delivery, instrumental births, and medical birth interventions increasing, the researchers set out to examine if operative (e.g., caesarean section) and medical (induction or augmentation of labor) birth interventions had an effect on children's health both short-term and long-term.

The team looked at data from 491,590 healthy women and their children born in New South Wales from 2000-2008, following the children during their first 28 days of life and up to 5 years of age.

Researchers found that children born by spontaneous vaginal birth had fewer short‐ and longer‐term health problems, compared with those born after birth interventions.

Babies born by cesarean section had higher rates of hypothermia following birth, and those born by emergency cesarean section had the highest rates of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes or obesity, in later years.

Those who experienced an instrumental birth after induction or augmentation had the highest risk of jaundice and feeding problems when compared to those born vaginally.

The team also found that babies who experienced any kind of intervention showed the highest rates of respiratory infections, metabolic disorder and eczema, compared to babies born by spontaneous vaginal birth.

"There is a general understanding that medical interventions may interrupt the normal stress of being born and seeding of a healthy microbiome and this can lead to a wide range of diverse health outcomes," explained Professor Hannah Dahlen, from Western Sydney University's School of Nursing and Midwifery. "Too little stress (i.e., no labour and cesarean section) and too much stress (induced/augmented labour and instrumental birth) can both have a negative impact."

The findings can be found published online in the journal Birth.