Modern scientific research finds that intervention in childbirth can have an impact on human health throughout life.
Alex Wakeford, Tony Harman, authors of The Microbiome Effect. How does the way a child is born affect his future health “*, translated and published in Russia, for the first time they ask the question: what are the potentially long-term consequences of such interventions in the birth process as a cesarean section or the use of synthetic oxytocin, which stimulates labor activity?
Tony Harman and Alex Wakeford share new insights into how bottle-feeding affects infant health. Explain what exactly happens to the little person at the moment of passing through the birth canal.
Knowing these mechanisms, you can make a conscious choice in favor of natural childbirth (after all, a woman does not always go for a caesarean section solely for medical reasons – often she is simply afraid to give birth or thinks that her figure will deteriorate). If an operation is unavoidable, the necessary security measures can be taken.
The authors are filmmakers living in the UK. Their film, Microbirth, was screened in Europe and North America and sparked a heated debate among doctors, midwives and parents.
The new work gathers information from experts from different countries, including midwives, developers of global health policy, pediatricians, immunologists, immunotoxicologists, geneticists.
Why did they write the book – to scare humanity once again?
As the authors themselves explain, their main audience is future parents and specialists who take part in the birth of a new earthling. “We in no way question the advisability of the future parents’ decision to carry out a caesarean section. We do not aim to create a feeling of guilt for the choice made.
Our daughter was born as a result of a cesarean section, so we know that not all children are destined to be born naturally. We want parents to be able to make informed choices based on up-to-date information.
At the moment, critical information is mostly hidden in voluminous scientific documents available only to specialists. Our task is to spread it. “
What happens to us in the birth canal?
The authors introduce the term “microbiome”, which includes the trillions of microorganisms living on the surface and inside the human body. These are bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa and archaea. They live on our skin, in the gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary system, mouth, nose and lungs. And in the vagina of women.
This community of microbes plays a very important role: they support the normal functioning of the body and protect humans from disease. Scientists have found that a short period of time becomes critical for the establishment of the microbiome: just before childbirth and immediately after birth.
Contact with microbes probably occurs in late pregnancy, colonization of the intestines during breastfeeding, but the most important event for laying the human microbiome is childbirth.
In a surprising way, microscopic processes in the very first minutes of life determine his health until the end of his days. During childbirth, the main human contact with the world of microbes occurs.
When passing through the birth canal, the baby’s body is completely covered with the mother’s bacteria: they get into the baby’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth. And this is important for building the child’s immune system.
It is the bacteria from the mother’s vagina and intestines that trigger the long learning process for the baby’s immune system. That is why interfering with its adjustment in the first minutes of life can lead to health problems.
There is no direct evidence that those born with a cesarean section will certainly develop an autoimmune disease.
A child born as a result of a cesarean section gets acquainted with microbes not from the friendly world of the mother’s body, but from the air, from contact with the skin of other people. But even in this case, it is possible to acquaint the newborn with the microcosm of the mother through the sowing procedure, through the touch of the baby’s skin to the mother’s skin.
How many midwives know and do this? When such a child becomes an adult, his immune system begins to attack not antigens, but, for example, react to gluten. Or show a reaction in the form of dermatitis to objectively harmless agents.
There is no direct evidence that those born with a cesarean section will certainly develop some kind of autoimmune disease. But such children are more susceptible to the development of these conditions in the future.
For example, there is strong epidemiological evidence that a caesarean section significantly increases the risk of chronic diseases such as bronchial asthma, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and overweight and obesity.
The authors of the book argue that there is a connection between the gut and the brain, and a number of neurobehavioral disorders are rooted in a reshaped gut microbiome that stems from a caesarean section.
The downside of oxytocin stimulation
The effect of oxytocin (a key hormone during childbirth) on mother and fetus has been little studied. Sue Carter, a behavioral neuroscientist, director of the Kinsey Institute and professor of biology at Indiana University, is studying the effects of synthetic oxytocin on animals. She shared with the authors of the book the results of a study in field mice.
The effect of the influence of the synthetic hormone varied depending on the dose received by the newborn mouse. If he received little, then it was possible to stimulate his active social behavior. If the dose was higher, the animals remained active and formed long-term paired bonds. But from the highest doses, the animals did not form pairs and went to strangers.
It was also found that the changes that occurred in the brain from the received synthetic hormone turned out to be lifelong. The results, according to Sue Carter, are frightening.
“We conducted a study on steppe voles, in which newborn males received a single dose of oxytocin on the first day of life, and published the results several years ago. When the cubs grew up, about half of them displayed atypical sexual behavior, and many of the rest who managed to have sexual intercourse with the female did not sperm. It was a real shock for us. “
Today, oxytocin is often used with ease, even when there is no clear medical need for it. It is used not in the cases indicated for this drug, but to stimulate contractions. What doses women take, how they affect the newborn is a topic for new research.
What is epigenetics?
In addition to the direct transmission of microbes to the next generations through the maternal line (through the birth canal of the grandmother to the mother, from the mother to the child …), there is another microeffect that occurs during childbirth. These more complex mechanisms are studied by epigenetics.
Epigenetics examines the turning on and off of genes that determine our appearance, character traits, tendencies of our behavior, predisposition to certain diseases, and other aspects of our personality.
According to the website of the UK Museum of Science, humans are born with 24,000 genes. They do not change throughout life: we are born and die with the same set of genes. But sometimes gene expression changes. Scientists call this the inclusion of a particular gene.
What makes a gene turn on or off?
Environmental factors, exposure to chemicals, dietary changes, lifestyle changes – all of these in fact have long-term effects on development, metabolism and health, sometimes even in future generations. If a parent has risk factors for the development of a disease, these factors may be present in the child.
From the point of view of epigenetics, it is not changes in this particular gene that are considered, but changes above the genome that can trigger gene expression in a different scenario.
How does this relate to childbirth? The fact is that scientists are currently studying whether the birth itself can be one of the factors that include a particular gene.
Citing experts, the authors of the book suggest that while the baby is developing in the womb, certain of its genes are turned off. Passage through the birth canal, stress and pressure can be critical environmental factors that include genes necessary for health. And those genes that were needed to stay in the womb are turned off.
This is just a hypothesis that requires new research.
Members of the International Research Group on the Epigenetic Impact of Childbirth, along with other researchers, are now developing the hypothesis that childbirth is an epigenetic event. According to Professor Hannah Dahlen, “There is no other process with such fine tuning that includes this amount of hormones.”
How does caesarean section affect epigenetics? It is important here when the operation is done: before or after the onset of labor. If, before the start of the operation, the woman managed to enter the active phase of childbirth, it is likely that the child managed to experience some of the sensations and release hormones associated with natural childbirth.
If the child does not receive a “hormonal cocktail”, he may not be physically and psychologically ready for birth.
Why did they write this book?
The Microbiome Effect has raised many difficult questions. Yes, now we know about it. And what can we do?
Aspire to natural generic processes as much as possible, the authors believe.
If a cesarean section is unavoidable, the delivery system should provide comprehensive assistance in the process of optimal seeding and nutrition of the newborn’s microbiome: immediate contact of the mother’s skin with the baby’s skin right in the operating room, establishing breastfeeding.
Also, in the future, it will be possible to use swab culture of the microbiome of a child born as a result of a cesarean section.
The authors of the book are confident that the future is not only in the hands of scientists, but also in the hands of each of us.
According to Dr. Blazer’s hypothesis of a vanishing microbiota, the modern “plague” affecting industrialized nations may be related to a decrease in bacterial diversity in our gut.
Antibiotic use, modern diets and lifestyles, and an increase in caesarean sections are all contributing to the decline in bacteria.
In the most pessimistic scenario, we will face an “antibiotic winter”, when we will all become susceptible not only to modern non-communicable diseases, but also to infectious ones. The way we live today increases the likelihood of pandemics.
While the prediction looks bleak, discoveries in the microbiome and epigenetics offer hope that the process can be reversed. The authors of the book are confident that the future is not only in the hands of scientists, but also in the hands of each of us.