MicroBirth – my thoughts

Microbirth Poster

Last weekend I was at the Cambs Doulas premiere of Microbirth, the new documentary from Toni Harman and Alex Wakefield of One World Birth.

Microbirth explores the latest scientific research about the microscopic events happening during modern childbirth. that can have life-long consequences for the health of our children and potentially a very serious impact on mankind. In particular, the impact of caesarean birth and the use of artificial oxytocin was discussed. The need for widespread natural term breastfeeding was also mentioned.

And the impact was discussed. The potential bankrupting, in our lifetime, of global healthcare, because of the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases – asthma, diabetes, obesity, etc. The changing of homo sapiens as a species, in a very real way.

I would definitely say that this a film anyone working in the birth world should see, to inform their work. The screening I was at was chocka with doulas and a few student midwives, but senior midwives and obstetricians were not visible, despite the proximity of the screening to Addenbrookes Hospital. If you’re pregnant, it might help if you ask your midwife and, if relevant, obstetrician if they have seen the film! You never know, they might not have heard of it and be interested enough to google it.

The film introduces a new concept, which I hope to discuss with many clients in future, and can definitely see ending up on some birth preferences: “seeding baby’s microbiome”. It simply means making sure that a baby starts off with the right bacteria and enough of them to “seed” its bacterial population.

Because of the people interviewed, I felt there was a real focus on how the impact of caesarean birth could be reduced, rather than a more balanced view of how caesarean birth rates could safely be reduced, whilst reducing the impact of caesarean birth on those babies who have to be born that way. The marvellous Hannah Dahlen was interviewed, but it would have been nice to hear about areas and clinics where they have already significantly reduced the caesarean rate, either over time or in comparison to the local average, and how this was and can be done.

The information on the research being done on how the negative impact of caesarean birth on a baby’s microbiome can be reduced was especially fascinating to me, given my passionate interest in the gentle caesarean method and there being choices for mamas who have to birth in this way. I’ll be blogging more about this in particular later.

The impact of not breastfeeding on a baby’s microbiome and their health in later life, was discussed in the movie, but I would have liked to have seen this explored in more depth as an issue in its own right. Even if we got birth right, on a population level, and a baby’s microbiome and epigenetics were all set up for future health, it all gets messed up again when baby’s are not breastfed. We already know from research that, on a population level, not breastfeeding exclusively till around 6 months and then alongside the introduction of solid foods for at least 2 years, has a detrimental effect on a population’s health.

One thing I learnt from the movie was that healthy human beings are actually 90% bacteria, 10% mammal, in a symbiotic relationship. It has shone new light on the negatives of our marketing-fuelled anti-bacterial culture (ironic pun intended!). Just because something is anti-bacterial, it does NOT mean that it is good for you. I know that I will be challenging that assumption even more in the future.

So, overall, fascinating must-watch movie. But it would have been good to have had a more balanced view of the issues – reducing inessential caesarean birth, reducing the use of artificial oxytocin in birth, increasing breastfeeding rates and challenging our anti-bacterial assumptions are as important as reducing the impact of caesarean birth. And it would have been good to have had action points that viewers could take away.

Did you see Microbirth? Because of it, will you be taking actions to help change the tide and return humanity to health? I would love to know your ideas.