The childbirth delivery method is associated with how a baby’s immune system will respond to two key childhood vaccines.
There are multiple types of childbirth delivery methods, including spontaneous vaginal birth, assisted vaginal birth, caesarean section, breech birth and multiple births. Many women plan for a natural vaginal birth; however, complications can arise during labour meaning this cannot happen.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Spaarne Hospital, University Medical Centre in Utrecht and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands have discovered a link between the type of childbirth delivery method and vaccine responsiveness by the baby.
The study was published in Nature Communications.
How does childbirth delivery method affect vaccine responsiveness?
The researchers studied the relationship between gut microbes and antibody levels after vaccination in 120 babies, who were vaccinated at eight and 12 weeks against lung infections and meningitis. They tracked the development of the gut microbiome in the first year of the baby’s life and their immune response to the vaccines by testing saliva samples at 12 and 18 months.
The team found that in 101 babies tested for antibodies following the lung infection vaccine, they had double the antibody levels in babies delivered naturally compared to those delivered by caesarean section.
Breastfeeding was also linked with 3.5 times higher antibody levels compared to formula-fed children who were also delivered naturally.
Furthermore, antibody levels following a meningitis vaccine were tested in 66 babies. They found that antibody levels were 1.7 times higher for naturally delivered babies, regardless of breastfeeding, compared with caesarean section childbirth method.
The role of the gut microbiome in children
The gut microbiome is designed at birth and develops rapidly over the first few months of life. It is mostly influenced by childbirth delivery mode, breastfeeding, and antibiotic use.
The exciting development by the collaborative team reveals a clear link between microbes in the gut of the babies included in the study and levels of antibodies. For example, high levels of Bifidobacterium and E.coli were associated with a high antibody response to the vaccine that protects against lung infections.
High levels of E.coli were also associated with a high antibody response to the vaccine that protects against meningitis.
Both Bifidobacterium and E.coli bacteria are attained during natural childbirth delivery and human milk.
Dr Emma de Koff, the 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.”