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The Bittersweet Reality Of Birth Intervention

Every decision we make has a direct impact on our lives or the life of another, whether we foresee that impact or not.

In our daily haste sometimes we don’t contemplate how these decisions impact our physical, mental and emotional well-being. With the escalation of autism, ADHD, allergies and obesity in children, more and more parents are questioning the impact of their choices and questioning our current orthodox health model. Parents would do well to consider that the quality of their family’s health is determined by the quality of questions that we ask.

Most of us are aware that a child’s health can be compromised well before they are born. Therefore, the objective of prenatal care in our modern world should be to arm parents with knowledge and confidence on not only how to strengthen their own health but how parents may be able to nurture and protect the health of their unborn child.

While there seems to be a smorgasbord of options available to couples on how to birth their baby, many couples are unfamiliar with the sequence of events that can unfold when requesting or agreeing to certain interventions and medical procedures. With this article I’ll be exploring the potential short- and long-term effects of cesarean births and epidurals.

Can Cesarean Births Result in Chronic Disease?

A 2013 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal stated, “The disruption of the gut balance has been linked to an increasing number of diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, allergies and asthma.”

A great question to ask now is, “What lifestyle factors disrupt our gut balance?”

There are many modern-day choices we make that deplete our important microbial balance or microbial community. For example, it is now increasingly clear that antibiotics destroy the gut’s important bacterial balance by killing off not only harmful bacteria but beneficial flora that the body needs to thrive and that antibiotics are best left for emergency “crisis” scenarios.

Other studies also tell us that many pharmaceutical drugs, stress, refined and processed diets, alcohol, environmental chemicals and genetically modified ingredients all have adverse effects on our gut bacteria or flora leaving us vulnerable to a host of diseases.

Our microbiome, or our body’s microbial balance, is essential to human health because the gut, brain and immune systems work intricately together. Our understanding of the importance of this interplay between the gut and the brain is quickly evolving. It was only relatively recently that we learned that 80 percent of our immune system is found in the gut. We’ve also discovered that there are as many neurons (nerve cells) in the gut as there are in the spinal cord, and that the gut or digestive tract acts as a completely independent site of neural processing, leading it to now be coined our “second brain.”

With this focus in mind, the last five years have given rise to a mountain of research that links dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut flora) with not only obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, asthma and allergies, but also a host of mental and emotional disorders.

As scientists work to understand what offsets and depletes our foundation of health, many studies now also question the long-term impact that cesarean births and a lack of exclusive breastfeeding have on our developing microbiomes.

How Can a C-Section Affect this Microbiome?

Studies have shown that vaginal delivery exposes a baby to microbes that resemble the mother’s vaginal bacteria (e.g., lactobacillus, prevotella and sneathia); in contrast, C-section exposes the baby to microbes that resemble those found on the skin (e.g., staphylococcus, corynebacterium and propionibacterium). It is suggested that children born by C-section lack the benefit of protective vaginal bacteria, which may make them more susceptible to viruses, allergies and asthma later in life.

It is suggested that by not passing through the birth canal a C-section-delivered baby’s microbiome is not seeded in the same way it is with a vaginal birth. This deleterious effect is compounded further if the infant is not exclusively breastfed, as colostrum and breast milk help to further establish the diversity and richness of the microbiome.

Breastfeeding is often incredibly hard post C-section largely because both mothers and babies are drowsy from the medications used. Additionally, oxytocin, the hormone of love, does not act in the same way with a cesarean birth. Oxytocin is the initiator of the rhythmic contractions of early labor and it also mediates the “milk-ejection reflex,” which allows for successful breastfeeding and promotes the development of a strong bond between mother and baby. Typically with cesarean births it is some time before babies are placed with their mothers.

A recent meta-analysis of 20 studies worldwide reported that C-sections, independent of maternal age, birth weight and breastfeeding, contributed a 20 percent increase in the risk of type 1 diabetes. The journal Diabetes discusses how the development of type 1 diabetes may relate to the initial bacteria to which a baby is exposed, relating to the type of delivery and the development of a child’s immune system and in modulating its response to external agents later in life.

Another complication of cesareans can be the lack of molding of the cranial (skull) bones. Molding is important in the activation of the respiratory centers of the brain as well as in the expulsion of air from the lungs. Researchers at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology discovered that “a cesarean delivery may predispose an infant to atopic disease (allergies) and increased the risk of asthma.”

Infants born by elective cesarean delivery have been shown to have even lower bacterial richness and diversity than babies born via cesarean and vaginal birth. Studies indicate that elective cesarean babies are more likely to have breathing difficulties and increased risk of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), a life-threatening condition, as well as other respiratory problems.

Clever obstetrics can indeed save the lives of women and babies in the event of an emergency, but it is the seemingly automatic classification of all labor as an emergency that is so concerning, leading to the increased medicalization of birth. Particularly alarming is the increase in cesarean, which is seen as a convenient and fast solution to many “problems,” including the expected time frames of parents, hospitals and medical staff.