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‘How C-section slows newborn’s ability to concentrate’

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HAVING a baby via Caesarean section can affect a child’s brain development, a study has revealed.

The delivery procedure affects at least one form of a baby’s ability to concentrate, scientists found.

It is known that factors such as birth weight and a mother’s age impact on the development of a child’s cognitive functions.
But little is known about how the actual birth event influences a baby’s brain and thinking abilities.

The study, by researchers at York University in Canada, marks the first of its kind to analyse birth experiences in this context.

The study was published in Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics.

Dr. Scott Adler, and Dr. Audrey Wong-Kee-You, who led the research, compared the spatial attention of babies delivered vaginally with those born via C-sections.

They found C-section delivery slows a baby’s spatial attention, which plays a role in how well they are able to prioritise and focus on a particular object or area of interest.

To arrive at their conclusions, researchers conducted two experiments involving different groups of three-month-old infants.

Their eye movement was monitored as an indication of what caught the babies’ attention. Eyes cannot move to where someone’s attention is not directed.

Therefore, disruptions or changes in the mechanisms involved in attention would manifest in subsequent eye movement.

The first experiment, a spatial cueing task, tested the stimulus-driven spatial attention of 24 babies.

A peripheral cue was presented to the edge of their line of vision, indicating the subsequent location of a target stimulus.

This activated infants’ saccadic (or quick, jerky) eye movement, so that their eyes turned faster towards the place where a target was subsequently presented.

The stimulus-driven, reflexive attention and saccadic eye movement of those babies born via a C-section were found to be slowed compared to those of vaginally delivered infants.

This is not because those babies try to more accurately select the right cues.

The researchers believe it is because C-section delivered babies’ brain development was impacted by their method of birth and their ability to initially allocate their spatial attention.

Though they note, it is still unclear whether this effect lasts throughout a lifetime.

The researchers found no difference in the cognitively driven, voluntary attention of babies with different birth experiences.

This followed the second experiment, a visual expectation task, involving 12 babies.

Stimuli predictably and alternately appeared on the left and right side of a monitor.

It increased saccadic eye movement as babies anticipated where the forthcoming stimulus would appear. Such anticipatory eye movements are linked to cognitive-driven spatial attention.

Lead author Dr. Scott Adler, whose research is published in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, said: ‘The results suggests that birth experience influences the initial state of brain functioning and should, consequently, be considered in our understanding of brain development.

Audrey Wong-Key-You, who was also involved in the study said: “The findings add a potential psychological implication to the roster of impacts that caesarean section delivery might have.”

The scientists are unclear as to why the procedure would slow babies’ concentration but say there is evidence from other studies that the experience affects their early development.

Growing numbers of women are choosing to have caesareans because they are very anxious about giving birth naturally.
But research in June published in the BMJ linked the procedure to the development of asthma, type 1 diabetes and obesity later on in childhood.

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