As a parent, you know that every child has a unique personality. We all know that there are many factors that can influence a child’s behavior. What most of us don’t realize as parents is that the way that our children were born could be influencing their current emotional health and behavior patterns. (1)
That’s right. A new study suggests that even among healthy, full-term babies, their mode of delivery could go on to affect their temperament and behavior. As a parent myself, I have to admit that I have considered many things that influence my children. However, I never made a real connection between how they were born (emergency C-section for #1 and C-section with forceps for #2) and their personalities. That’s exactly what a major study in China looked at though, and their results might surprise you.
The research was conducted in China. The study included over 4,000 preschoolers from a large area (“eighteen counties and three cities”). (2) The study included children classed into three groups, which they described as: ” born by caesarean delivery on maternal request (CDMR), assisted vaginal delivery (AVD), and spontaneous vaginal delivery (SVD).” (2) This means that my first daughter, for example, would have been excluded from the study as she was born by an emergency caesarean. However, this does include a wide range of births.
China has a particularly high level of requested C-sections. According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, wealthier southeast China has particularly high caesarean rates. (3) In 2006, for example, over half of all birth were by parent requested (elective) caesareans. The US rate of elective C-sections, by comparison, is just over 30%. (4) The other types of birth included were traditional births (called SVD) and ” assisted births “, meaning births in which a ventouse or forceps were used.
Assessment forms about the children were filled out by their mothers when the children were in preschool. The purpose was to study more long-term, rather than immediate, affects of delivery methods on child psychopathology.
According to the results of the parent-completed Child Behavior Checklists (CBCL), children born by elective C-sections were the lease likely to have “emotional or behavioral problems”. (3) It is thought that because the birth method is less “traumatic”, both the mother and baby are calmer in both the short and long term. The children most likely to have behavioral difficulties were those born by assisted delivery. This is thought to be because these assistance levels are normally used after a long and difficult labor, and can be stressful on the newborn. Previous studies have shown that this can cause elevated amounts of Cortisol (often called the stress hormone).
First of all, although the results of the study are significant, they have not yet been backed up by further research. The research suggests general trends in behavior. The study does not mean that just because your baby was born with forceps, for example, that they will have behavior problems. In my family, in fact, although my second daughter (who was delivered with forceps) is stubborn, she is less emotional than her big sister.
The study does, however, suggest that the medical community and parents should pay more attention to birth options and possibilities. Elective caesareans do carry more risks than natural vaginal births, so a decision to have a C-section should not be taken lightly. However, perhaps the use of assistance methods could be decreased by better birth methods, medical care, and attitudes, as well as preparation for birth.
(1) “Forceps babies ‘more likely to behave badly’ while those born by Caesareans ‘are calmer'” by Jenny Hope, Mail Online
(2) “Caesarean delivery on maternal request and childhood psychopathology: a retrospective cohort study in China” by H-T Li, R Ye, TM Achenbach, A Ren, L Pei, X Zheng, J-M Lie, BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
(3) “BJOG release: Childhood psychopathology and delivery outcome” by Naomi Weston, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
(4) “Press Release”, CDC Online Newsroom, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention