New research suggests undergoing a C-section or choosing to formula-feed a baby instead of breastfeeding, might affect the baby’s long-term health later in life.

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, involving research done from University of Alberta scientists, suggests the method of birth and feeding practices influences the development of gut bacteria in newborns – that could impact future health and the development of medical conditions.

The study suggests babies born by C-section or those who aren’t breastfed have an increased risk of developing diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, asthma, or even cancer, due to disruptions in gut bacteria.

“Infants are born with a clean slate and overtime the intestine, the gut, is colonized with these good bacteria,” explained senior author Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, with the University of Alberta.

Kozyrskyj says when babies are delivered by caesarean section, they lack the specific group of bacteria found in babies who are delivered vaginally.

“The first bacteria are obtained from mom during vaginal delivery, caesarean section physically blocks that process. Some moms who have a C-section delay breastfeeding because they hurt or aren’t feeling good. And moms receive a dose of antibiotics to prevent infection in C-section delivery,” Kozyrskyj said.

“Those three sections, the fact that the C-section prevents first contact with mom’s bacteria, the delay in onset of breastfeeding and receiving antibiotics through mom are the main factors that would cause changes.”

Bacteria in the gut helps digest food, stimulates the development of the immune system, regulates bowels and protects against infraction.

Don’t underestimate method of delivery and feeding practice

For their data, researchers looked at 24 healthy infants as part of the larger Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study.

CHILD involved more than 10,000 people, including 3,500 infants in four provinces including British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, born after 2010, as well as their parents.

Researchers say the results from their study suggest that the decision to undergo a C-section or breastfeed can have lifelong effects on a child’s health.

The authors of the study write that the “potential long-term consequences of decisions regarding mode of delivery and infant diet are not to be underestimated.”

Click here to read the study 'Gut microbiotia of healthy Canadian infants

Winnipeg mother Kristy Wittmeier's son was part of the study and says she hopes information from the study will help improve the health of future children.

"I'm not sure if the results will be able to help our children immediately but I think the results will be able to help children in the future so that was probably our primary motivation,” Wittmeier said.

Edmonton mother Heather Florkowsky says while the study is interesting, it doesn't sway her decision to proceed with C-section delivery or choosing to formula feed.

"It's a really personal choice for everybody," she says.

"It's something more to think about when deciding, are we going to do formula or not. However does it sway my decision? Not at all."

In Alberta, about 30 per cent of babies born are delivered by caesarean section.

2010 statistics suggest about 90 per cent of Albertans try breastfeeding, but by six months, only 29 per cent of moms were still exclusively breastfeeding.

With files from Carmen Leibel