What good can come from childbirth?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

The headline was too good to pass up. This is from Amy Romano’s latest essay on innovative models of caring for mothers and children:

It almost seems ludicrous to ask what good can come from childbirth, since birth results in a new human being, an event celebrated across every culture. But it is a worthy question to consider in the context of healthcare. When we talk about birth outcomes, the framework is usually morbidity and mortality: preterm birth, birth injury, hemorrhage, infections, and so on. But birth is the perfect opportunity to look through the salutogenic and life course lenses.

One good thing that can come from birth is a woman who feels vital, resilient, and ready to take on motherhood. As a midwife, I’ve seen the “If I can do that, I can do anything” phenomenon many times after the raw intensity of a natural birth and the “birth high” that follows. But I’ve also seen it after the physical and emotional drama of a high-risk pregnancy and high-tech birth. The common ingredient is a woman who is a full participant in her experience, given plenty of support, and treated with dignity and respect.

Birth can also set physiologic events in motion that promote lifelong health for both the infant and the mother.

There is growing evidence that bacteria the baby encounters around the time of birth have a crucial role in the child’s immune system and overall health, with disruption of normal bacteria a potential pathway for chronic diseases ranging from asthma to obesity. There is growing consensus that our high cesarean rate is contributing to chronic disease, at least in part via disruption of gut flora.

A mother’s ability to hold her baby immediately after birth, which can be preserved or disrupted by her birth environment, has far-reaching impact. Infants who experience early skin-to-skin contact with their mothers establish effective breastfeeding sooner and breastfeed longer than infants without such early contact. Holding a newborn skin-to-skin also reduces physiologic stress (evidenced by reduced crying and more stable blood sugar) and improves attachment and bonding. Again, cesareans disrupt this process, although some hospitals are working to change that.

Breastfeeding, in turn, affects lifelong health. While the focus is often on the myriad benefits for babies, breastfeeding also promotes maternal health. For example, it reduces the risk of breast cancer in women, especially a form of cancer that disproportionately affects black women.

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