5 things more important than the 5 usual rules to avoid colds and flu

From October until about March mainstream media will feature articles about keeping kids healthy during cold and flu season. The same tried and true advice is always the same, so let’s review:

1. Wash your hands! Bugs are everywhere, and teaching children to wash their hands often minimizes exposure.

2. Get plenty of rest. This is just common sense. We are more susceptible to lots of things when our bodies don’t get this time to rejuvenate. This rule of thumb could include minimizing stress, which for children means not making them go to school and daycare when they are sick.

3. Eat right. Again, this is common sense. If we don’t provide the building blocks of health through the food we eat, we make ourselves easy targets.

4. Stay home if you are sick! This includes keeping your kids home when they are sick. This does NOT mean sending them to daycare when they are too sick to go to school. It means keeping them home! Not only are they more comfortable and able to recuperate at home, it is not fair to spread their contagion to the other kids!

This particular rule as some add-ons:

If your child has been given a fever reducer, cough suppressant or other cold medication that suppresses symptoms, it does NOT mean they are better! It means their symptoms have been suppressed. They are still sick. They are still contagious. Do not take them out in public!

I have heard parents and co-workers justify being at work and school sick by saying it’s just unavoidable that stuff is ‘going around’. No, it’s not. Typhoid Mary used the same justification! Well, ok, she didn’t think she was sick either because she wasn’t symptomatic. She was a ‘healthy carrier’. However, see previous paragraph for the modern equivalent of people thinking they aren’t contagious just because they aren’t symptomatic.

In any case, she kept spreading Typhoid because she insisted on going to work. She left a wake of illness and death. Epidemics and pandemics spread because people do not think about those they might expose. If you are sick, stay home!

5. Avoid unnecessary antibiotics! I talk to a lot of parents, and I can’t believe, with everything we know about the dangers of the overuse of antibiotics, that parents are still being given antibiotics for colds, flu and ear infections. This topic is deserving of an entire article, it is just that important. In fact, there are several great articles on just antibiotics and childhood illness, so I’m linking to a few:

Holistic Pediatric Association

Dr. Greene

No antibiotics for ear infections (MSNBC)

Doctors are still over-prescribing antibiotics, even as campaigns are encouraging parents to refuse. Do your research and know when to say no.

Finally, a book that every parent must read is Healing Childhood Ear Infections: Prevention, home care and alternative treatment, Dr. Michael Schmidt

5 ways to boost immunity long before exposure to illness

What if hand-washing was the last line of defense in a long line of things you could do to optimize your child’s immune system and minimize disease? What if you could make choices throughout the childbearing year, before your baby is even born and immediately after, that would impact your child’s susceptibility later in life?

There are actually 5 things mothers have much more control over than the germs that may end up on their child’s hands. Make no mistake; some of this information has not been readily available, so it’s likely a large number of parents will not have had access to it in their decision-making process. For those parents, hand-washing and the other four rules are the best line of defense. The immune system continually identifies new pathogens so that they can be recognized later and a preemptive strike launched.

Parents who start out with the information to follow have an opportunity to get a head start, but those tips, like hand-washing, to minimize exposure are still important. But if one child can be spared the pain of one less ear infection, or one less parent must endure the helpless feeling of holding a feverish child one less time, then this article will have served its purpose.

Your child’s immune system

Step #1-Optimize your diet in pregnancy. If possible, consult with a nutritionist who is familiar with the Brewer Pregnancy Diet or at the very least educate yourself on proper pregnancy nutrition. Since the vast majority of pregnancy complications are directly or indirectly related to nutrition, by doing so you may just avoid a lot of other problems too! Prenatal vitamins are no substitution for feeding your baby good food every single day of your pregnancy.

A child’s immune system starts developing in the womb. What the mother eats--or doesn’t (Moore, 1998; ScienceDaily, 2004) while pregnant, and what she is exposed to(Hinterthuer,2007) can have long lasting effects on the health of the child. Mothers today may be told to gain more, or less, weight in pregnancy, but the importance of how they do so is rarely discussed. The standard American diet is filled with non-nutritive calories that not only do nothing to contribute to the health of the fetus, but in some cases actually contaminate the developmental process.

Step #2-Plan to have a natural birth.
There was a time when the way babies got in there and the way they got out was just assumed. If a woman needed surgery, obviously something had gone awry and either the life of the mother or child had been in jeopardy. Understanding that there is often a grieving process when the birth process is circumvented, people would reassure the mother by saying, “It doesn’t matter how the baby arrived, as long as he’s healthy.” In cases where the benefit of surgery outweighed the risk, that’s a comforting statement, because the alternative would be that the baby wouldn’t have arrived at all.

When narcotics became common in birth, mothers who refused them were asked, “Are you sure you don’t want us to help you out with a little something. Why be a martyr?” The implication being that there is no reason to have a natural a birth. There are many, many, benefits to a natural birth to both mother and baby. There are many reasons non-medically indicated inductions and cesareans cause problems later in a child’s life. It is no longer appropriate to tell mothers it doesn’t matter how the baby is born, because it does. Obviously, the mother who required intervention has bravely made a difficult decision, and we need to support her and applaud her courage. Putting decisions of convenience and life-or-death decisions in the same category does a disservice to everyone.

Non-medically indicated inductions (meaning the mother is tired of being pregnant, the doctor is leaving for vacation, or simply to fit the birth into a schedule) and elective cesareans, meaning women just don’t want to labor or birth, are a rising concern in iatrogenic (doctor caused) prematurity. (Fuchs, Wapner, 2006). Premature babies get sick more often (Sears, 2008), and this propensity can last into childhood. So Part A of Step 2 is to ensure your baby doesn’t arrive early, either by choice or by chance.

Use your pregnancy time to get as healthy as you’ve ever been, not as a time to “eat whatever I want since I’m going to be fat anyway and I can’t do this at any other time in my life.” I know from personal experience it's tempting. I spent more than 10 years of my life ruining my body with a diet cola and cigarettes in an attempt to stay thin. When I got pregnant people actually encouraged me to eat. Yea! Yes, I allowed myself to eat real food...and the junk I never allowed myself before, too. Don't do it!

But I digress.

Avoid inductions and scheduled cesareans unless they are truly medically indicated. Take an out-of-hospital childbirth class to learn your options. Take a HypnoBirthing® if you are afraid of pain in labor.

Part B of Step 2 is to avoid surgery. One reason for that is just because it increases the odds of prematurity, which we’ve discussed, but there are other reasons as well, one of which is that a natural birth colonizes the gut of the neonate with beneficial bacteria (Biasucci, Benenati, Morelli, Bessi & Boehm), which kick starts the immune system. If the baby is deprived of exposure to the mother’s bacteria through natural birth, they may also be at increased risk of asthma later in life. (Reuters)

Babies delivered surgically do not go through the tight squeeze of the birth canal that 'hugs' the baby and clears his lungs out and gets him ready to breathe, so cesarean born babies are more likely to have ‘wet lung’ which can lead to infection. The study on asthma didn’t mention it, but I’d have to wonder if this has anything to do with the increased risk of asthma, too.

Part C of Step 2 is related to part B: surgeries only take place in the hospital. Doctors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and hospital acquired infection I high on the list of reasons. (Leduc, 2002) Being in the hospital means babies are exposed to hospital germs while they are vulnerable, as are mothers. Any time they are cut…as in episiotomy as well as abdominally they are open to infection. Just say no to scalpels!

Part D of Step 2 is that induction and surgery both increase, if not insure, that there will be narcotics or ‘cain’ derivatives used, which is just one of dozens of birth interventions common in U.S. birth, both vaginal and surgical, that impair the ability to breastfeed. (Kroeger, 2006) This leads into another step in optimizing immune system function in your child, breastfeeding, but chronologically on our list of options, it isn’t next. That would be:

Step #3: Let your baby have his cord blood! The reason that cord blood is important is that it contains ‘stem cells’. These cells are important because they are adaptable and may be helpful in a number of medical advancements.

However, this adaptability becomes even more important if we consider that the placenta and the blood in it belong to the baby. There is roughly 100 ml of blood in the placenta and cord that is required to suffuse the brain, lungs and heart with oxygenated blood when fetal circulation switches over as the baby begins to breathe on his own, which is one reason why it is important NOT to cut the cord right away. The other reason has to do with the immune system, hence the relevancy to the matter at hand.

That blood contains stem cells that also belong to the baby. Those stem cells are meant to move into the bone morrow where white blood cells are made. Thus, stem cells are designed to help the immune system develop properly. If we cut the cord early, either because of antiquated protocol or to harvest stem cells for a possible future illness, are we creating those very illnesses? At the very least, we know we are hindering the baby’s natural immune responses. The question is for how long?

Step #4: Breastfeed your baby. Again, this is one of those topics that has been written about extensively because it is so incredibly important. I’ll just hit the basics here: bottle fed babies are five-times more likely to get sick; mother’s milk has at least 100 ingredients that artificial baby formula does not have, including live antibodies that are specific to pathogen exposure of each mother and baby.

In short, breastfeeding, perhaps more than any other decision here, lays the foundation for a baby’s fully functioning, healthy immune system. Without it, not only is your baby more vulnerable to illness as a baby, but this vulnerability last throughout a lifetime. (Jackson, Nazar, 2006) When mothers are trying to determine if they can take time off of work long enough to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship, they may want to consider how often they will need to take off work to tend to a sick child over the course of 18 years.

Step #5: Reconsider vaccines. I’m not talking about rejecting immunization altogether, but how we give them, and if every kid should get them. When we look at risk factors for certain populations, I think it is up to each parent to weigh the risks and benefits and make their own decisions.

Warning! Rant! It’s slightly off topic, but for those who advocate compulsory vaccination citing ‘herd immunity’, let me point out that while my child has only had antibiotics twice in 17 years, she is still at the same risk of contracting MRSA as everyone else because the vast majority of parents overuse antibiotics, which is what causes resistant strains of disease causing organisms. My kid is just as exposed as any other when parents insist on sending their kids to school and daycare sick. If I’m supposed to shoulder the risk of death to my child to preserve the health of other kids, their parents should at least be responsible enough to shoulder their fair share of the responsibility for keeping my kid disease free, which doesn’t even involve a possibility of death…just a day off work! That said, my kid IS vaccinated, but I chose to minimally expose her and spaced it very carefully, which IS on topic. End Rant

Vaccines suppress the immune system. When a vaccine is administered, the immune system gets busy identifying and attacking the new bug that’s been introduced to the system. While the system is busy doing that, it is less able to fight other things the host might be naturally exposed to. There is some question as to whether there is long-term damage to the immune system (Mercola) and that perhaps we aren’t trading minor childhood illnesses for major adult illnesses. We don’t know if it is the timing of the vaccination, the ingredients, or the number of vaccines administered that might contribute to the suspected problems.

After careful consideration, my husband and I came to a compromise we were comfortable with. We did not shoot a multitude of toxins into our newborn. She was breastfed and attachment parented for about the first two years, so she was minimally (and selectively) exposed to illness and protected through passive immunity (she was protected to everything I was exposed to since I made antibodies and she got them through my milk).

When she began riding her bike (and falling off) we got her a tetanus vaccination; singly, without diphtheria and pertusses components . Then we waited another 7 or 8 years until we figured her immune system was fairly mature, and got the rest. Part of the reason we decided to do it then was her father started to travel to places where certain diseases were more prevalent and we thought we may travel with him on occasion. Thus, the benefit outweighed the risk at that point, in our opinion. Also, she was in high school with college not far behind, soon to be exposed to who-knows-what.

I know someone who has lost a child to a vaccine reaction. For those who say they could never live with themselves if their child got a disease that has a vaccine, I have to say it breaks my heart to see sweet and loving parents who did what most parents do without a second thought living with the grief that it wasn’t a random illness that took their child, but a shot they approved. Still, they do not presume to tell any other parent what choice is right. They advocate exactly what I have: know your options; weigh the risks and the benefits as they exist for you and your child in your particular situation. I won't say I know how they feel, because I haven't lost a child. But I do have empathy and of course I have thought about how I would feel in both scenarios.

Rules in action

The reason I wrote this article is that someone requested I teach a class on how to naturally keep kids healthy. This person asked me to do so because of our unique story.

That said, here is how our experiences differed from the ‘norm’. Our daughter got sick, a cough and a cold, for the first time just before her first birthday. According to About.com: Pediatrics, it is “…normal [emphasis mine] for young children to have six to eight upper respiratory tract infections and two or three gastrointestinal infections each year.” I would estimate that is pretty much what I see with friends and family. However, I emphasized 'normal’ because I don't believe it is. I think it is ‘typical’ for kids to be sick that often, due to all the ways their immune systems are unintentionally sabotaged from before birth, but not normal in a child who has a normally functioning immune system...meaning as nature designed it to work.

My daughter got her first, and only, earache when she was just over two years old. She did not receive antibiotics. Many children have had so many ear infections by then they already have tubes in their ears, a practice which has recently been called in to question. Well, actually it was called into question before 1991 because I read about it then.

In her 17 years, my dau had antibiotics twice. Once, it probably wasn’t necessary and we made the decision simply because we were sleep deprived and desperate. She had just entered the germ-pool called ‘school’ and, because this is how the immune system works (ask any first year teacher who spends the first year sick) she got a new crud weekly for about the first two months until her immune system recognized the crud as old crud. The second time we agreed to antibiotics, it was necessary and I have no doubt. It was for a cut on her finger that became infected.

She had been prescribed amoxicillin at nearly every doctor’s visit, even "well-child" visits and the visit for a broken arm, (No doctor, it's not an ear infection, it's a freakin' broken ARM!) but I didn’t fill most of them. I knew that fluid in the ear did not equal an ear infection, and even when she did have a cold, that an antibiotic was not a cure-all. I filled a couple, figuring if she didn’t get better in a few days (or got worse) I’d give them, (the doctor refused my request to do a culture in the office) but she always got better. I finally got tired of fighting with that idiot and hired a smart doctor. By the way, not only is she not hearing impaired (unless you count selective hearing), her average composite score for her ACT, which she took when she was 12, was 2o; the average for high school juniors/seniors is 20. Obviously she didn’t suffer academically from fluid in the ear, and her speech is impeccable, if somewhat cheeky.

Throughout her childhood, she got sick once or twice a year. Once I found the smart doctor, I decided enough with the ‘well-child’ scam (since we were not on a vaccine schedule there wasn’t much of a point anymore and I got tired of being harassed by the nurses about my parenting decisions) I only took her in if she was sick enough for a visit, and once every couple of years just so they’d remember her. Although, I have to say, when I called to get her vaccinated when she was 13, they asked me if I was sure she was a patient there because they couldn’t find her file. She had been moved to the storage shed because it had been about 4 years since she’d been in I think. She just hadn’t been sick with more than a 24 hour bug or a cold in all that time.

The year after being vaccinated, she was sick all the time. By ‘all the time’ I’d say 6-8 times that year, maybe a little more. I won’t assume that’s because of the vaccine any more than I’d assume the tinnitus my husband’s experienced ever since he had to get shot up with a mystery soup of vaccines for a trip to China caused his misery. I do wonder, but either way, we made the decision, we live with the consequences.

Besides, there was a lot going on in her life that year. Then we had a pretty decent year or more, and now this year, she’s sick pretty often again. Maybe she’s making up for lost time. However, I will say, I’d rather tend to a sick teen than a baby or toddler who can’t tell me what hurts.

So that’s why my friend asked me to speak about keeping kids well naturally. We’ve done it, by luck or by design or a little of both, but everything I’ve outlined above I’ve done myself. In my daughter’s entire 17-year existence, she’s been sick less than most kids are in their first three years…and it’s primarily been in the last 3 years for her.

Eighteen years ago I began researching. I continued to research throughout my child’s life, to determine whether or not our decisions were still appropriate. I hope she continues to do so as she begins to make her own decisions.

It could be luck, and I know our one experience is purely anecdotal, but I believe these things have kept our daughter healthier than she might have otherwise been. I believe this because we made our decisions based on not just the research, but the experiences of parents who shared their stories of raising kids this way before us. We’ve never been perfect; we fed her organic originally, but eventually she found Taco Bell and we caved. And just like every other parent we hope that the decisions we’ve made don’t come back to bite us in the butt. However, if something should happen, we feel confident that we did the best we could with the research and resources we had.

Nature has carefully constructed an optimally functioning immune response. We certainly can remain reasonably healthy much of the time by following the first 5 guidelines put forth at the beginning of this article. However, if we know how to maximize the development of a healthy immune system from conception on with the last 5 decisions, we are way ahead of the game…and so are our children.

Archer, K., 2007. Childbirth: By convenience: More births are fit into schedule. Tulsa World. http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?articleID=070825_1_A1_World08150&allcom=1,1,1

Biasucci G, Benenati B, Morelli L, Bessi E, Boehm G. Cesarean delivery may affect the early biodiversity of intestinal bacteria. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18716189

Fuchs, K., Wapner, R. (2006) Elective cesarean section and induction and their impact on late preterm births. Clinics in perinatology, vol 33 (issue 4) : pp 793-801. United States. http://www.find-health-articles.com/rec_pub_17148005-elective-cesarean-section-induction-impact-late-preterm-births.htm

Jackson M, Nazar A. (2006). Breastfeeding, immune response and long-term health J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2006 Apr;106(4):181-2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16627775

Hinterthuer, A., (2007). Flu-Fighting Fetuses. ScienceNOW Daily News. Retrieved November 6, 2008 from

Kroeger, M., (2004). Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding: Protecting the mother and baby continuum. http://books.google.com/books?id=GJmt1XX3H-kC&dq=kroeger,+breastfeeding&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=oWgtSr27lW&sig=IYLN9fF1nH9GoIVAJUDxl8dRnw4&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

Leduc, M., (2002).Healing Daily, http://www.healingdaily.com/Doctors-Are-The-Third-Leading-Cause-of-Death-in-the-US.htm

Mercola, (n.d.) Vaccine and Immune Suppression http://www.mercola.com/article/vaccines/immune_suppression.htm

Moore, S., (1998). Nutrition, immunity and the fetal and infant origins of disease hypothesis in developing countries. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (1998), 57, 241-241.Retrieved November 6, 2008 from http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FPNS%2FPNS57_02%2FS0029665198000391a.pdf&code=bce5aeb25c2213cba239898b8d35813a

Reuters, (2008). Cesarean delivery may increase kids' asthma risk http://in.reuters.com/article/health/idINPAT36945620080703

ScienceDaily (2004). New Study Suggests Link Between Maternal Diet And Childhood Leukemia Risk. Retrieved November 6, 2008 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/08/040824014510.htm

Sears, (2008). Immune system boosters. Parenting. http://www.parenting.com/article/Pregnancy/Health/Ask-Dr.-Sears-Immune-System-Boosters

Sears. Breastfeeding http://www.askdrsears.com/html/2/t020300.asp

Ontogeny of the immune system

Guilt-Tripping Mothers

I often hear that I can’t tell mothers about ecstatic birth because they might feel guilty if they don’t have one. Just a few blog posts ago, I wrote about the same argument being used regarding research about telling mothers that what they eat in pregnancy is important to the health of their babies later. Not just ‘you are what you eat’ but ‘your baby is built by what you eat’. The author of the article I mentioned saw that as blaming the mothers and objected.

So when I hear good parents being told, “If you had only [insert abc routine technology] then we could have done [xyz intervention] and you wouldn’t be here now.” It annoys me a little. No, it annoys me a lot. Especially when I little bad science is thrown in. I’ve known doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, childbirth educators and lactation consultants all to be guilty of this. One couple who is very close to me intended to have a homebirth, but ended up in transport. The midwife then proceeded to criticize every recommendation that doctor made that the parents followed with comments akin to, “If you had only done what I said, you wouldn’t be here, and you shouldn’t do what he says because...” WTF?!

What is important is that the parents feel they’ve made their own best decisions. It is not the place for others to insert doubt. If the parents later wonder or question their decision, it is then appropriate to support them in their quest for answers. Part of our growth process is that we do wonder if we might have done something differently. It is still up to the parents to travel their own path to resolution without anyone else’s determination of what might have been right or wrong. As Maya Angelou says, “We do the best we can with what we have, and when we know better, we do better.”

The parents who come to my classes are loving, intelligent people. They research their options and make their choices, and sometimes the choices they make are to opt out of routine intervention and utilize appropriate technology only when it becomes appropriate to their situation. Saying,” If you had only…” is totally about placing blame and making parents feel bad so they ‘follow the rules’ next time. There is no other point to saying it. It doesn’t help in decision making in the moment, it doesn’t change the outcome…it just places blame.

One of these instances might be ultrasound. Some parents have done their homework and are fine with a medically indicated use of this technology, but not routine use. They’ve weighed the risks and the benefits and have determined that if the benefits outweigh the possible risks, certainly they would have one done. To later, after the fact and with hindsight being 20/20, say “You know, if you would have had an ultrasound we would have known this was going to happen and could have done something” is really not helpful.

Ultrasound is a great tool for a lot of things, like determining fetal lie if there is a question as to how the baby is positioned. Palpation is adequate for most cases because, well, babies move for one thing. Assuming the possible risks of ultrasound to tell you something that may or may not be the same tomorrow means the risks outweigh the benefits. IF palpation suggests a fetal position that might be corrected, then the benefits may outweigh the risks. But palpation is accurate more than 85% of the time, so to say afterward, if this baby is one of the other 15% (or if this baby has moved INTO a breech position after correct assessment via palpation...and how would one know that?) is just not helpful.

In other cases, ultrasound is just notoriously inaccurate, like in determining a baby’s size (accurate only to TWO POUNDS in either direction) or gestation (accurate to within TWO WEEKS in either direction-yes a month time span). I hear women all the time saying “Well, my due date changed again” after an ultrasound, to which I ask, “How many times did your conception date change?” Due dates don’t change! Babies come out when they are ready, and not all of them will be at 40 weeks.

In fact that is another pet peeve…women being told that such-and-such happened because they were ‘overdue’ when in fact they have not even reached 42 weeks. NORMAL HUMAN GESTATION IS BETWEEN 38 WEEKS AND 42 WEEKS. Babies that come at 38 weeks are not early; they are right on time. Babies that come after 40 weeks but before 42 weeks are not late. They are right on time. 40 WEEKS IS JUST AN AVERAGE. Less than 5% of babies will come exactly on their “due date.”

In a study of 56,317 women, it was determined that there is no advantage to inducing labor before 42 weeks, and in fact, inductions at 41 weeks increased complication rates. (Alexander, McIntire, Leveno, 2000) Notice that the date on that study is 2000 when many women were being induced at 41 weeks; now women are being induced at 40, 39, 38 and even 37 weeks. This is such a problem in our nation’s failing grade on premature birth, that review of this practice is one of the solutions to reducing prematurity from the March of Dimes. (Medical News Today, 2008)

The worst case mother guilt-tripping I think I’ve heard is the doctor who, while walking beside his patient on the way to OR for a cesarean due to a placental abruption said to her, “See, I told you; you should have quit smoking.”

Sure, everyone knows you shouldn’t smoke while pregnant, and yes, he had told her that. But a) he didn’t tell her what the complications might be…just that it causes small babies, which many mothers do not understand means oxygen deprivation and placenta malformation and b) even if he had told her, she didn’t quit. What exactly was the point in telling her, essentially, ‘this is all your fault’ on the way to the OR when she’s scared and uncertain as to whether she or her baby would even survive?

Which brings me back to my original point: there is no point beyond making women feel guilty about something they cannot change. The only reason to say stupid things like this is to make them compliant little patients the next time around.

Alexander J, McIntire D, Leveno K, (2000). Forty weeks and beyond: pregnancy outcomes by week of gestation. Obstet Gynecol. 2000 Aug;96(2):291-4. Retrieved November 21, 2008 from http://www.greenjournal.org/cgi/content/full/96/2/291

Medical News Today, (2008). March Of Dimes Releases Premature Birth Report Card For US: Nation Gets A 'D'. Retrieved November 21, 2008 from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/129225.php


Sheri Menelli Needs Your Birth Story!



Neurophysiology of the Childbearing Year: Maternal and Infant Responses

Considering the importance of the changes taking place in the brain during the childbearing year in both mother and baby, it would make sense that we would thoroughly understand the implications of the disruption of those natural processes and further, that we would avoid such disruption if at all possible.

Obviously, if there is a medical need for a life-saving intervention, disruption is unavoidable. In such cases, there are ways to lessen the severity of problems arising from such a disturbance. However, here I wish to address nature’s plan for a smooth transition, and the routine (thus avoidable) ways in which such a plan is often thwarted.

With 93% of women reporting routine interruption of labor through electronic fetal monitoring that keeps them strapped to the bed, (Lothian, 2003) and 34% of women undergoing surgical birth (ibid.) despite the World Health Organization’s admonitions that cesarean rates should not exceed 12-15%, (Wagner, 2006) we really need to explore the ramifications of such routine use of technology.

In 1983, Dr. Thomas Verny founded the Association for Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) to examine the possible repercussions of such meddling. Verny, author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, suspected that babies were conscious beings even before birth. It had long been assumed that babies were born ‘empty vessels’ so to speak; they didn’t think or even feel pain. David Chamberlain, a Boston psychologist and co-founder of the APPPAH explains in Babies don’t Feel Pain: A Century of Denial in Medicine that this determination may have come about because the early experiments (sticking babies with pins) were done on babies whose mothers had been anesthetized during birth. Because the babies were also anesthetized, having received the same dose of medication as their mother, it stands to reason that the babies would not react to painful stimuli. However, the researchers instead concluded that babies don’t feel pain, reinforcing the pervading belief that what happens to them during birth is simply not important.

However, Chamberlain and Verny weren’t buying it. Nor were Dr. Michael Odent, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Dr. Fredrick Wirth or others.

In The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit, Joseph Chilton Pearce explains that human fetal brain growth follows the pattern of other mammalian species:

“If a pregnant animal is subjected to a hostile, competitive, anxiety-producing environment, she will give birth to an infant with an enlarged hindbrain, and enlarged body and musculature, and a reduced forebrain. The opposite is equally true: If the mother is in a secure, harmonious, stress-free, nurturing environment during gestation, she will produce an infant with an enlarged forebrain, reduced hindbrain, and smaller body.” (Pearce, 2002. Pp. 115)

If babies have perceptions, and their brains are being shaped before birth (Wirth, 2001) through the experiences of the mother, some thinking people began to wonder how the birth process might affect brain growth. Again using what was known about other mammalian parturition, some postulated that if interruption of the natural processes of birth and natural infant feeding had detrimental consequences in other species, perhaps it did in human babies. And if that was so, then perhaps human mammalian mothers also suffered in some way. Nearly a century after routine medical interventions were introduced into birth, researchers finally started to wonder if we were creating problems for mothers as well as babies and if so, how?
For instance, beginning with the onset of labor, we know that 41% of women participating in the 2006 Listening to Mothers Survey began their labors medically induced. (Declercq, Skala, Corry, & Applebaum, 2006.) Eighty percent of those inductions were chemically induced with Pitocin, an artificial form of oxytocin. (ibid.)

There are many possible ramifications of the introduction of pitocin. The artificial substance does attach to chemical receptors in the uterus, therefore it does cause uterine contractions. However, it does not cross the blood-brain barrier, so it does not act exactly like naturally produced oxytocin, nor does it pair with other neurotransmitters to change behavior like naturally occurring oxytocin does. It seems it may also ‘take up’ receptor sites for endorphins, thus not only creating pain, but blocking the body’s own response to lessen pain.

To see how this impacts the physical process of birth first, it might be helpful to explain that current obstetrical practice encourages ‘active management’ of the third stage of birth. ‘Third stage’ is the final part of birth wherein the placenta is birthed. ‘Active management’ includes administration of pitocin, early cord clamping, and cord traction to ‘guide’ the placenta out. The rationale behind active management is that it reduces bleeding, which is the primary concern of third stage. Of course it would be if the hypothalamus was no longer making oxytocin because the brain wasn’t getting the message to produce. Thus at least 41% of women are being ‘managed’ in such a way as to interrupt the bonding process-oxytocin has been called the ‘love hormone’, and when paired with prolactin facilitates motherly love (Fisher, n.d.)-denying the baby about 100 ml of blood that he or she needs to perfuse his or her vital organs, not because third stage is dangerous, but because first stage (labor) has been meddled with. If we keep in mind that if pitocin is administered not only during inductions, but augmentation of labor (to make labor go faster), that number of mother-baby pairs impacted would be far higher.

Karen Strange, Certified Professional Midwife and Neonatal Resuscitation instructor explained during a HypnoBirthing® Conclave presentation this author personally attended (October, 2008) that undisturbed, the immediate period following birth is when the baby’s brain gets the message to ‘fire and wire’. It is the surge of oxytocin, along with beta-endorphin release and prolactin that help the mother and baby to fall deeply and immediately in love. Prolactin optimizes brain growth and according to Dr. Sara Buckley is important in neuroendocrine development in the growing baby, (Buckley, 2005) which she feels maybe be why breastfed babies have higher IQs and is reason to breastfeed as long as the baby’s brain continues rapid development; usually 2 or 3 years. Alarmingly, she also shares Dr. Michel Odent’s observations that:

“…the functioning of the oxytocin system, which is still developing in the baby at the time of birth, reflects our ability to love ourselves and others. Odent has suggested that many of our society’s problems-our current epidemics of drug addiction and teenage suicide, for example-may be traced back to the widespread and unprecedented interference with the oxytocin system of mothers and babies at birth.” (Buckley, 2005. Pp. 17)

While the possible implications of the disruption of the natural process is staggering from the perspective of the child, mothers suffer as well. Buckley discusses this in Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering as manifesting in a number of different ways, such as increased incidences of postpartum depression. Mary Kroeger, in Impact of Breastfeeding: Protecting the Mother and Baby Continuum notes that most breastfeeding difficulties originate with routine birthing interventions. She devotes each chapter to common interventions and explains exactly how it disrupts the breastfeeding experience. Considering what we now know about the many ways in which breastfeeding encourages brain growth, separate and apart from the 100 or more ingredients found in mother’s milk that are not found in formula, (Williams & Stehlin, n.d.) anything that causes problems in breastfeeding should be avoided.

Neurological damage isn’t the only issue with alterations in natural birth and breastfeeding patterns. Nature has fine tuned the transition from womb to world so delicately that even our immune systems develop and function sub-optimally if the process is disturbed. (Penders, Thijs, Vink, Stelma, Snijders & Kummeling, et al., 2006). But even if our brains are the only thing effected by the casual disregard for natural birth and breastfeeding so prevalent today, isn’t that enough? If maternal and infant behavior is predicated on a hormonal cocktail entitlement that few receive, which the research suggests it is, (Russel, 2007) shouldn’t we be basing maternity care practices on said research? Shouldn’t there be some requirement to show that any non-medically indicated interventions are safe and effective? Because according to A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Birth, available in its entirety for free at ChilbirthConnection.com, much of what is done to women and babies routinely has not only been shown to be ineffective, but is dangerous as well. This conclusion is supported by the fact that infant and maternal outcomes have worsened, not improved as most might think, as routine use of technology has increased. (Wagner, 2006)

What we know is just the tip of the iceberg. Shouldn’t we be trying to understand if attachment disorders in children, postpartum depression in mothers, child neglect, abuse and abandonment, or learning disorders might stem from the needless interruption of the birthing process? Wouldn’t it be less expensive and easier to minimize the number of mothers and babies suffering by not messing with the hard-wiring taking place at the time of birth instead of trying to fix what’s broken later? Shouldn’t we at least be willing to consider that nature has a plan that usually works, and intervene only when it doesn’t?

Perhaps with the 30 years of research regarding the symbiotic relationship between mother and baby in the childbearing year we have thus far, we should implement protocols that protect that delicate balance and bring the ecstasy back to birth.
Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon. While evidence-based maternity care is still just an ideal we strive towards, there are people working diligently to inform parents of the weight of their pregnancy and birthing decisions. Debbie Takikawa produced What Babies Want, a documentary that features many of the experts mentioned here. Debra Pascali-Bonaro and Kris Liem just released Orgasmic Birth: The Best Kept Secret, a phenomenal DVD, while Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova lectures world-wide on the concepts laid out in her educational DVD Birth As We Know It. All of these works take the scientific evidence and distill it into language that speaks to the hearts of parents. These are hopeful reminders that we can get back what has been lost, and heal what has been harmed…if we only choose to listen.


APPPAH, (2009). Association of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology and Health website, retrieved Oct 1, 2008 from http://www.birthpsychology.com/

Buckley, S. (2005). Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. One Moon Press. Australia.

Chamberlain. D., (2005). Babies don’t feel pain: A century of denial in medicine. Retrieved October 6, 2008 from http://www.terrylarimore.com/BabiesAndPain.html

Declercq, E.R., Skala, C., Corry, M.P., Applebaum, S., (2006). Listening to
mothers II: Report of the first national U.S. survey of women’s childbearing experiences. Maternity Center Association, New York. Retrieved October 11, 200 from

Fisher, D., (n.d.) Falling in love: The chemistry of the first breastfeed. Retrieved October 4,2008 from www.breast-feeding-information.com/the-chemistry-of-the-first-

Kroeger, M., (2004). Impact of Birthing practices on breastfeeding: Protecting the mother baby continuum. Jones and Bartlett, Massachusetts.

Lothian J., (2003). Listening to mothers—The first national U.S. survey of women's childbearing experiences. Journal of Perinatal Education, 12(1).

Pearce, J., (2002). The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Park Street Press. Rochester, Vermont.

Penders, J., Thijs, C., Vink, C., Stelma, F. F., Snijders, B., & Kummeling, I., et al. (2006). Factors influencing the composition of the intestinal microbiota in early infancy. Pediatrics, 118(2), 511–521.

Russell, J., (2007). The maternal Brain. British Society for Neuroendocrinology. Retrieved October 12, 2008 from http://www.neuroendo.org.uk/content/view/23/11/

Verny, T., (1981). The secret life of the unborn child. Summit Books, New York.
Wagner, M., (2006). Born in the USA: How a broken maternity system bust be fixed to put women and children first. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Williams, R., Stehlin, I., (n.d.) Breast Milk or Formula: Making the Right Choice for Your Baby. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from http://www.fda.gov/fdac/reprints/breastfed.html

Wirth, F., (2001). Prenatal Parenting. Regan Books/Harper Collins. New York.