The new case against baby formula and C-sections

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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This week’s New York Times magazine features a cover story written by Michael Pollan about germs. That was the selling point, at least, though that’s a simplistic description. It’s long and technical — and I suspect not everyone is keen on reading a long essay about germs — but it was interesting. And it got me thinking.

First, in case you already didn’t know that breast feeding was important, here’s more evidence.

It turns out that, aside from the nutritional benefits, mother’s milk also includes a gut bacterium that works to “keep the infant healthy by crowding out less savory microbial characters before they can become established and, perhaps most important, by nurturing the integrity of the epithelium — the lining of the intestines, which plays a critical role in protecting us from infection and inflammation.”

So, in case you didn’t know, if possible, breast feeding is best.

And it turns out, vaginal delivery is, too, and for similar reasons:

“Most of the microbes that make up a baby’s gut community are acquired during birth — a microbially rich and messy process that exposes the baby to a whole suite of maternal microbes. Babies born by Caesarean, however, a comparatively sterile procedure, do not acquire their mother’s vaginal and intestinal microbes at birth.”

How important is this exposure?

“At dinner, [Prof. Rob] Knight told me that he was sufficiently concerned about such an eventuality that, when his daughter was born by emergency C-section, he and his wife took matters into their own hands: using a sterile cotton swab, they inoculated the newborn infant’s skin with the mother’s vaginal secretions to insure a proper colonization. A formal trial of such a procedure is under way in Puerto Rico.”

Read the whole thing here.

It occurs to me that this is an area where “Crunchy Cons” and tree-hugging liberals can agree. Whether you believe it’s God’s plan, or simply natural selection, there are unintended consequences to fooling with mother nature.

To be sure, there are occasions where we simply can’t do things the old fashioned way, and when that happens, thank God for technology.

But given the alternative, we should eschew the sterile in favor of the organic. Science seems to be backing that up.

*** UPDATE: A reader tweets this:

This is a valid point. John Stossel wrote about it last year: “Edwards and others made millions off lawsuits like that. That’s the real scandal. Doctors now perform more C-Sections because they fear lawsuits.”

Matt K. Lewis