Giving birth vaginally could make your baby smarter, according to new research from Yale University that says vaginal birth triggers the production of a certain protein in babies' brains that improves brain development. Delivering via Cesarean section, on the other hand, appears to inhibit the brain-boosting protein. What exactly is this substance? Mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2—UCP2—is important for the healthy development of neurons and circuits in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for short- and long-term memory.
Researchers made their discovery by studying mice. "We were looking at the protein, and we realized that if you take a 'normal birth' mouse and compare it to a 'C-section mouse,' there are very different levels in the hippocampus," Tamas Horvath, a professor of biomedical research and department chair of comparative medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, tells Huffington Post.
Researchers don't know why offspring born via natural birth have more UCP2 compared to C-section offspring, but think that pressure and stress from traveling the birth canal might have something to do with it. This theory seems to make sense in light of another study that found babies delivered vaginally pick up "friendly" bacteria in the birth canal that may help protect them from future diseases.
So what does this mean for your baby—and your birth? Horvath hopes it gives moms-to-be and their doctors one more piece of information to consider, especially when it comes to the controversial issue of medically unnecessary C-sections. "The increasing prevalence of C-sections driven by convenience rather than medical necessity may have a lasting effect on brain development and function...," Horvath says in a Yale press release. Horvath hopes to one day study UCP2 levels in human babies.
But mom Christine Hughes from San Francisco, California, doesn't think she needs more research to prove what she already knows. "I have two kids. Both have memories bigger than elephants and both were delivered by emergency C-section. I'm all for natural birth, but let's try not to ignite a new Mommy war, thank you very much!"
What are your birth plans? Do you think it's true that delivery mode can have far-reaching effects like the one described here?