Vaginal Bacteria is the Secret Ingredient

Aktualisiert: 16. Aug 2019

Only when I was pregnant with Baby Paul Thor did I begin to realize how commonplace birth interventions are. In the modern, westernised world, cesarean sections and epidurals seem to be embraced more than feared. This is a trend less than 100 years old, and thank goodness for modern medicine, but is it maybe a bit excessive?

Pregnant women are not sufficiently informed before labor. This probably has a lot to do with the lack of time we have to really dig in to what truly is a very complicated matter. Researching the risks and benefits of the birth options I would have took me a lot of effort and killed many, many hours, and there weren’t any clear answers. Add to that hospital pamphlets and a 2-day baby boot camp and I just felt confused.

As a first time mom-to-be, understanding the complete and comprehensive picture of what it means to get an epidural, or a (planned or unplanned) c-section is nearly impossible. But I now also know that trying to get a clearer picture can change a mom's and baby's life.

When we bypass nature we need to be prepared to pay the cost, even if nobody is even sure what the costs are. When it comes to birth, three things are undisputed. First, women are, by nature, designed to give birth. Second, pain is part of the process. Pain is what guides a woman in labor, it is what helps her to know when to push and when to stop. And third, when it comes to uncomplicated deliveries, vaginal and epidural free births are the best for a baby (again, this does not apply to cases that require modern medical intervention techniques).

Did you know that vaginas are filled with bacteria that will become a newborn's permanent residents; help them digest their first meal; produce vitamins; protect them from the growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria; and support their immune system? Thanks to the diversified microbiomes babies get from passing through the birth canal, vaginally born babies are reported to have less allergies, less risk of obesity, asthma, immune deficiencies and diabetes during their lives than babies born via c-section.

On the other hand, a baby born via c-section is likely to be exposed to risks from the intervention, including neonatal depression (due to general anesthesia), fetal injury during delivery, increased likelihood of respiratory distress, and breastfeeding complications. C-section babies also miss out on the vaginal microbes. Instead, they are more likely to pick up bacteria from the room they are born in, mostly harmful skin bacteria like staph. To make up for this shortcoming, vaginal seeding is a procedure, by which vaginal fluids are applied to babies born via c-section. As good as it sounds, moms reported dangers and the practice is controversial.

Even though vaginal births are thought to be best for mom and baby, there are situations in which it is medically necessary for a doctor to intervene. Luckily, c-section can then make a difference between life and death.

However, bear in mind that the statistics should also make us wary. The numbers tells us that every third woman in the US (nearly every woman in Brazil!) gives birth via c-section, a rate that has risen by 50% in the course of only 20 years. A great majority of these interventions are medically not necessary and/or maternal requests. It's a story, in which hospitals have their own agenda - carrying out c-sections is far more lucrative than vaginal birth. In the US, a hospital gets USD 20,000 more from a c-section than from a vaginal birth (which itself already costs around USD 30,000 – why?!). In Germany, a c-section costs €3000 to the state, which is double the cost of a natural birth. To make matters worse, many hospitals have lost the skill of delivering breech babies vaginally, even twins, despite the risks being lower or equal to delivering these babies through c-sections.

Every woman's birth story is unique. Things probably won’t go the way we imagine them, for better or worse. I believe that being informed and at the same time questioning the information we receive is the little bit we can do to make what we consider the best decision for ourselves and for our baby. Had I not been informed, my own birth story with Baby Paul Thor most certainly would have been a different one.

I highly recommend this short and easy to read blogpost by childbirth educator and author Genevieve Howland, depicting the risks and benefits of c-sections, as well as epidural anesthesia.

I'd love to hear about and learn from your birth story. Shoot me an Email though the Contact button or, even better, submit a form in the About Us tab.