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The association between caesarean section and cognitive ability in childhood



Global rates of caesarean section (CS) rates have increased rapidly in recent years. This is a growing public health concern as it has been proposed that CS may impact cognitive outcomes in childhood. However, the evidence for this association is limited and inconsistent. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between obstetric mode of delivery and longitudinal cognitive outcomes in childhood.


We examined this question using data from a longitudinal cohort study of 8845 participants from the Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative UK cohort, who completed a range of verbal and visual-spatial cognitive assessments at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11 years.


We found a statistically significant association between planned CS and visual-spatial cognitive delay in the pattern construction assessment at age 5 (OR 1.31, 95% CI 0.99–1.72) and age 7 (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.12–1.81). Additionally planned CS was also associated with increased odds of “early childhood delay” (OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.15–2.50) and borderline increased odds of “persistent delay” (OR 1.37, 95% CI 0.99–1.89) in visual-spatial cognitive tests. Mode of delivery was not associated with verbal ability or with patterns of delay at any age point in verbal cognitive tests.


We have reported a small association between planned CS and visual-spatial cognitive delay in childhood. However, while this result should be interpreted with caution, it highlights the need to further explore this potential relationship and the causal basis of such an association.

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Correspondence to Ali S. Khashan.

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Hanrahan, M., McCarthy, F.P., O’Keeffe, G.W. et al. The association between caesarean section and cognitive ability in childhood. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 55, 1231–1240 (2020).

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  • Caesarean section
  • Obstetric mode of delivery
  • Cognitive ability