Women who choose to have Caesarean sections may be jeopardising their chances of bonding properly with their babies, a leading childbirth expert has claimed.

Obstetrician Michel Odent said that undergoing the planned procedure prevents the release of hormones that cause a woman to 'fall in love' with her child.

Speaking at a conference in Cambridge, Dr Odent warned that both C-sections and artificial inductions with drugs somehow interfere with the natural production of the hormone oxytocin.

The French expert said: "Oxytocin is the hormone of love, and to give birth without releasing this complex cocktail of love chemicals disturbs the first contact between the mother and the baby.

"The hormone is produced during sex and breastfeeding, as well as birth, but in the moments after birth, a woman's oxytocin level is the highest it will ever be in her life, and this peak is vital.

"It is this hormone flood that enables a woman to fall in love with her newborn and forget the pain of birth."

He added: "What we can say for sure is that when a woman gives birth with a pre-labour Caesarean section she does not release this flow of love hormones, so she is a different woman than if she had given birth naturally and the first contact between mother and baby is different."

More than 130,000 Caesarean sections were carried out at NHS hospitals in England last year. One in five births is now a surgical procedure and in some units the rate is 30 per cent - twice as high as recommended by the World Health Organisation. That compares to only three in 100 births in the 1950s.

Today, more women are planning so-called designer births in which they pre-book surgery. About 7 per cent of NHS surgical births - about 10,000 babies a year - follow a request from the mother for no medical reason, leading to speculation about a trend among women 'too posh to push' who choose a Caesarean for lifestyle reasons.

Britney Spears, who had a Caesarean when she had her first son last September, said in advance she was worried about the pain of a natural delivery.

According to Dr Odent, problems with bonding can occur after planned operations - or elective Caesareans - which take place before a woman goes into labour. Women who have been in labour and then have an emergency section will have already set the hormone flood in motion, he said.

He also believes that taking painkillers such as general anaesthetic or an epidural can negatively affect bonding in the first crucial hours. Inducing labour with artificial hormones could also be equally damaging.

Early bonding

Previous studies have suggested that talking painkillers can damage a mother's chance of bonding with her baby. Earlier this year experts from the Royal College of Midwives said that taking drugs during labour can leave new mothers feeling they have 'missed out' in some way on a satisfying experience.

As a result, they can find it harder to bond with their babies straight after the birth. Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust said last night: "We know that oxytocin levels are lower in women who have had Caesareans but we do not know what effect it has.

"Women should not be worried about this as there are lots of factors which affect how they bond with their baby.

"However we do believe that more should be done to support women in having natural births."

Dr Odent was speaking at a conference organised by the Birthlight Trust, an educational charity promoting a holistic approach to pregnancy, birth and babyhood.