Pregnancy And Birth: The Benefits of Recent Research

Pregnancy and birth

For readers who are planning to have children or know of a relative or friend doing so, I’m conveying recently-published research on many aspects related to pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.

• Breastfeeding babies protects women against premature menopause

Given the physical and psychological stresses that pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding impose on women, it’s nice to know that child-bearing is not just an evil plot by Mother Nature to make us sacrifice ourselves for the good of the species. 

There’s a silver lining for mothers. Beyond the tender moments of motherhood—those heart-melting gazes during breastfeeding, the sweet sound of “Mummy” for the first time, and the warmth of tiny hands clasped in ours—there are some unexpected health perks to bearing offspring.

Recent research suggests that motherhood might be a shield against premature menopause. This is a big deal because women facing menopause before 45 have heightened risks of various health issues like cognitive decline, osteoporosis, and heart problems.

In a fascinating twist, data from the Nurses Health Study II—a long-running investigation into the health of American nurses—shows that each pregnancy seems to reduce the risk of premature menopause. Just one pregnancy slashes the risk by 8%, with the benefits climbing for each additional bundle of joy. For 2 pregnancies, the risk is reduced by 16%; for 3 pregnancies, 22%, and for 4 pregnancies, 19%.

Breastfeeding was also found to reduce the risk of early menopause.  Breast milk packs a punch with properties that keep any risk of contamination by parasites at bay.

• For a brighter baby, eat fruit during pregnancy

The ongoing “diet wars” have left many in a state of bewildered befuddlement, including a fair share of health experts scratching their heads alongside the rest of us, especially when it comes to the humble fruit.

Some women have been cautioned by well-meaning but perhaps misinformed advisors to shun fruits because they’re “loaded with sugar.” The sheer absurdity of lumping the natural sugars nestled within whole fruits with the processed sugars in candies and sodas should be glaringly obvious, but alas, clarity seems to evade many.

Pregnant women steering clear of fruits might inadvertently shortchange their little one’s brain development. Research showed that eating more fruit during pregnancy correlated with sprightly developmental tests for the offspring at the tender age of one….organic friuit being the better option.

• Exercise during pregnancy protects both mother and baby against obesity

Here’s an intriguing study that was conducted on mice: lean mice who were exercised daily during their pregnancies:

  1. Put on fewer pregnancy pounds compared to their couch-potato counterparts, despite munching on the same food.
  2. Showed lower blood sugar levels and less resistance to insulin (translation: they were less prone to gestational diabetes).
  3. Sported more of that calorie-burning brown fat and less of the regular, run-of-the-mill white fat.
  4. Shed those pesky “baby pounds” quicker postpartum and during lactation.

There’s more! The offspring of exercising mouse mothers had less of that stubborn white fat and more of the metabolism-revving brown fat, along with ramped-up activity in fat-burning enzymes.

This matters as brown fat is a big deal for newborns, helping to regulate their body temperature, quite the leg up in the survival department.

These results need to be confirmed in us humans, but the bottom line for now is keep up with that gentle exercise routine during pregnancy. Who knows, you might just be paving the way for a healthier, heartier next makes exercise unsafe for themselves or their unborn child.

• Caesarean delivery should be avoided unless truly necessary

Caesarean is the only surgery where seven layers of tissue are opened and the mother is expected to stand up six hours later, taking responsibility for one more person.

If you’re a mother who has had a baby by cesarean, you’re stronger than you think. Be proud of yourself. 

While caesarean delivery can be life saving for mother, baby, or both in certain circumstances, many c-sections are performed without a clear medical reason.

Let’s not sugarcoat it: a c-section isn’t a walk in the park, nor should it be seen as the “easy way out” for moms hesitant about the whole vaginal delivery ordeal. And it definitely shouldn’t be done just for the convenience of the obstetricians. It carries serious risks for the health and fertility of women, and the lifelong health of their babies.

We’re talking triple the risk of major complications like cardiac arrest, infections, and blood clots for the moms. And for the little ones born via c-section? They might have an uphill battle too, facing a higher risk of obesity and diabetes down the road.

Even if Mom had no risk factors for a c-section, her child might still face those extra hurdles. Why? Blame it on the less diverse gut microbiota that comes with missing out on the whole vaginal birth experience.

And let’s not forget about Mom’s future fertility. It turns out that those who’ve had a cesarean might have a tougher time conceiving again, not to mention a higher risk of stillbirths.

So, while a c-section might be a lifesaver when needed, it’s not without its consequences. A study in 2021 unearthed some curious findings about postpartum experiences. So brace yourselves!

Those adventurous souls who engaged in unprotected intercourse within 3 years of popping out their first bundle of joy….. well, it turns out that if they happened to have undergone the c-section route, they were 15% less likely to conceive and 17% less likely to have a subsequent live birth than women who gave birth vaginally.

And there’s more! The plot thickens when it comes to stillbirths: c-section route faced a 1.2% chance of this unfortunate event, whereas their vaginal-birth counterparts had just a 0.1% risk. It’s like a statistical showdown of the birthing methods!

And let’s talk about those little antibodies—apparently, babies born vaginally are swimming in double the dose of these germ-fighting warriors, thanks to the buffet of beneficial bacteria they encounter during their vaginal entrance into the world. But fear not, c-section babies, you’re not completely left out of the immune-boosting party. A sprinkle of probiotics might just do the trick to level the playing field.

• The moments after a baby is born

The baby’s mother is the only person who has had contact with the baby during pregnancy. The baby may know the father’s voice but in the moments after delivery it is VITAL that the baby be handed to the mother for breast feeding. This is non-negotiable!

Some eager nurses are itching to give the baby a scrub-down and a snug blanket wrap before trotting them out for the adoring grandparents to coo over. This effectively prevents the important moment of bonding between mother and child. Failure to do this and bonding will NEVER take place.

Baby Milia was born two months early, but has neither been put in an incubator nor separated from her parents. Instead, Milia has been allowed to lie skin to skin with both mum and dad since the moment of birth. This is thanks to a new working method used in the hospitals in Gävle and Hudiksvall, Sweden.

The childbirth was early and unexpected, but still calm and safe, says Milia’s mother Sophia.

A newborn baby needs to experience closeness and warmth, even if born premature or is ill. The new method of working means that the newborn baby is placed immediately after birth on the mother’s breast where it can stay, where the baby also receives the care it needs. The skin-to-skin method started as a project but is now an established method of work in childbirth and women’s health care in the Gävleborg Region.

The benefits are healthier children, healthier mothers and safer families.

Dr. Elmar Jung
Dr. Elmar Jung
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