Mothers who have a choice between natural birth and a C-section would do well to choose the former. Natural form of birth can improve the baby’s brain development, according to new research.

Vaginal birth triggers the expression of a protein in the brains of newborns that improves brain development and function, the study, published in the latest PLoS ONE, found. This benefit extends all the way into adulthood.

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The seemingly magical protein is called “mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2,” otherwise known in shorter, snazzier form as UCP2. (If you click on that hyperlink, you’ll notice that this protein may also play a role in “apoptosis,” which is cell death. I read related stories with interest, because things that prevent cell death — as long as they don’t promote cancer or other problems — could be the proverbial fountain of youth for us.)

UCP2 was previously determined to be important in the development of certain brain neurons and circuitry. Those, in turn, are responsible for short- and long-term memory. UCP2 is also involved in cellular metabolism of fat, which is a key component of breast milk.

So not only does this protein likely aid the infant’s transition to breast feeding, but it also supports braininess.

It remains unclear as to exactly how natural birth triggers the expression of this beneficial protein. I’m thinking it could be biochemical or hormonal. It could alternatively have something to do with the movement stimulation.

What is clear is that caesarian delivery diminished the protein. A C-section involves delivery of a fetus by surgical incision through the abdominal wall and uterus. Some C-sections occur in critical situations. Some are used to prevent such problems; others are elective. Doctors are becoming increasingly concerned about elective ones.

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“These results reveal a potentially critical role of UCP2 in the proper development of brain circuits and related behaviors,” Tamas Horvath of the Yale School of Medicine was quoted as saying in a press release. “The increasing prevalence of C-sections driven by convenience rather than medical necessity may have a previously unsuspected lasting effect on brain development and function in humans as well.”

There are a bunch of risks associated with C-sections too. It’s therefore better for moms to undergo a natural vaginal birth if at all possible. According to at least this study, it’s better for their babies too.