So apparently I should stop using hand sanitizer and roll my baby in dirt immediately about birth.

Just kidding….sorta.

I went to the Screening of “Microbirth” last night – put on by the London Doula Group and Babeeze in Arms Doula Centre.   IT was a great night! My impression is that it was well attended by doulas, pregnant women and their partners, various health care professionals, and members of the general public.

The documentary (Microbirth) presented new information and fascinating insights about the connection between HOW we are born and our overall health.  To summarize the documentary:

  • The film started out by presenting humanity as having come a very long way.  We are at the pinnacle of our existence. We have incredible technological and medical advances; we are further ahead in our scientific abilities than we have ever been. We are at the top of the game….or so it seems.

 

  • Even though we are more advanced than we’ve ever been, the sad reality is that we are sicker than ever.  Non-communicable (ie. chronic) diseases such as obesity, asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc, are at an all time high and are on the rise worldwide.  Experts are predicting that by 2030, it will cost the world 47 Trillion dollars to deal with chronic diseases. It is not only unsustainable, but it will “bankrupt the world’s health systems”.

 

  • But why are these diseases on the rise? Researchers are seeking to understand the underlying cause.  Sickness occurs when the body’s ability to cope with disease is compromised. Our immune systems are responsible for fighting off pathogens that will make us sick.   The film presented the concept of the microbiome.  Each individual is essentially a living ecosystem.  We have about 10 trillion cells in our bodies.  BUT we have bacteria living in us and on us – a staggering amount – 10x the amount of our own body cells!   These bacteria live in a symbiotic and harmonious relationship with us. We host them and we need them.   They make up our “microbiome” and regulate our immune function.

 

  • It is estimated that since the introduction of antibiotics and the “war against germs” that our species has lost about 1/3 of the essential bacteria that we need to have optimally functioning immune systems. This is a problem and this may be why chronic diseases are on the rise – we simply do not have the ability to fight back as strongly as we once did.   (Of course, there are other factors too.  The WHO cites smoking, alcohol, poor diet and lack of exercise as main reasons for the increase in non-communicable diseases.)

 

  • So what is the connection to birth?  At birth our immune systems are like blank pages.  Through the process of being born vaginally, we are supposed to get “seeded” with our mother’s bacterial flora.  We get coated with her bacteria as we pass through the birth canal; we swallow it as we transition to breathing.  It is good, it is necessary, it is how we were designed to be inoculated with a healthy dose of good bacteria, thus giving our immune systems an optimal and strong start!

 

  • In other words, HOW we are born matters. What happens during vaginal birth and through the first few moments (eg. skin to skin contact, breastfeeding) is vitally important to how a baby’s microbiome is seeded, what is written on the page of the immune system.  Birth is the key event in our lives that will determine the susceptibility or vigor of the immune system.

 

  • The documentary went on to discuss the implications of the medicalization of birth on the future of our health as a species.  It looked at the prevalence of c-sections; it discussed epigenetic changes that occur at birth; and it hypothesized on the impact of an incomplete microbiome inherited from one generation to the next.  Basically, if we don’t do something soon, we are going to be facing the biggest global health crisis known to man.   The makers of the film feel that giving babies as optimal of a start as possible is the place to start. Ensuring babies are seeded with an intact microbiome may be the force which stems the tide of otherwise looming disaster.

Wow…not heavy at all.

As someone who has worked in health care, I often think about its future.  Where is it heading? What will the future of health be for my aging parents? For me when I’m 80? For my children?   I work in the system…so I know that a lot of what goes on is not helping the situation and is in fact unsustainable.

I feel that the system is too big and overwhelming to change from top down or by instituting recommendations and policies.  It is truly about the individual. It’s about me and it’s about you.  What can YOU do for yourself and your family that will change the course of your health care?  Particularly the microbiome…what should you stop doing right now?  What should you start doing right now?

If the microbiome is seeded at birth, then birth matters.   This is why I love what I do.

I’m a huge believer in natural birth.  I know that sometimes this is not always possible. There are medical conditions and emergencies that arise.   C-sections are important for the right patient, but not all women.  Research has repeatedly shown that a natural birth (ie. vaginal without medical interventions including induction and other interventions) is superior for the physical and emotional health of both mother and baby. So unless it is truly impossible or unsafe, go for a natural birth.

It is possible and you are capable.  The culture of birth in a given society, the expectations and the fears play a bigger role in birth outcomes than we realize.   As someone who works with the body, I believe that given the right information and tools, you can do it.

What role does a physiotherapist play in facilitating a natural birth?  A vital one.   It’s all about preparation.  Your body is the vehicle that the baby will pass through. Therefore a healthy body will have greater success than a sick body.   I work with pre-natal moms to prepare them for labour. We optimize overall movement, alignment, strength, mobility, flexibility, exercise and activity.  I specifically am concerned with position of the pelvis and status of the pelvic floor and its contents.  Both need to be in an optimal state for natural birth to occur.  We explore various birth positions which keep the pelvic floor and pelvic outlet open.  We learn about the diaphragm, thorax and breathing and how this system can help or hinder the birthing process.  We talk about natural pain control methods that work!  If you have had a baby and have mobility, pain or function issues, it’s also important get that treated before baby number 2 comes along.

In other words, working with a physio can provide you with many effective strategies to use during labour – these options can be the big difference in how your labour progresses and helping you reach your goal in having a natural delivery.

So those are my thoughts on the documentary.  I feel all the more motivated to make small daily changes that will ensure my babies are seeded with an as complete as possible microbiome.  That means changes in diet, seeing bacteria as my friends, avoiding antibiotics as much as possible, and of course, doing all that I can to have a natural birth and breastfeed.

What about you? What do you think about our future of health care? How do you prepare for a natural birth and care for your body’s microbiome?