Microbirth: an object lesson in the ignorance, gullibility and desperation of natural childbirth advocates


Any major field of pseudoscience worth its salt creates an alternative world of internal legitimacy. It doesn’t matter whether it is deadly antivaxx activism, naturopathy, or natural childbirth. They all do it to hide the fact that mainstream science and medicine look upon them as ignorant fools.

What’s an alternate world of internal legitimacy?

[They]have built an alternative world of internal legitimacy that mimics all the features of the mainstream research world — the journals, the conferences, the publications, the letters after the names — and some leaders have gained access to policy-making positions. Mixing an environmentally inflected critique of [obstetrics] and Big Pharma with a libertarian individualist account of health has been a resonant formulation for some years now, with support flowing in from both the Left and the Right.

This is a description of vaccine rejectionists, paraphrased from the paper The Legitimacy of Vaccine Critics: What Is Left after the Autism Hypothesis? by Anna Kirkland, published in Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law in October 2011. It applies equally well to natural childbirth and homebirth advocates.

The latest addition to the alternate world of natural childbirth advocacy is the film Microbirth, conceived, produced, and funded by natural childbirth advocates desperate to demonize C-sections. Its thesis?

…We believe “seeding of the baby’s microbiome” should be on every birth plan – for even if vaginal birth isn’t possible, immediate skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding can still help to provide bacteria crucial to the development of the baby’s immune system. In the scientists’ view, if we can get the seeding of the baby’s microbiome right at birth, this could make a massive difference to the baby’s health for the rest of its life. Consequently, we believe that “Microbirth” is of extreme importance for global health and potentially, for the future of mankind!

Let’s leave aside the breathless hyperbole for the moment and ask some simple questions. Who do is the “we” when the producers of Microbirth announce “we believe”? It’s not microbiologists since there is NO scientific consensus on the composition of the neonatal microbiome, let alone what it ought to be. Microbiologists do not yet understand how much of the tremendous variation from individual to individual reflects anything other than the fact that individuals differ in a myriad number of ways. Microbiologists do not yet understand the short term impact of the neonatal microbiome, let alone the long term impact. Microbiologists do not yet understand how the micro-virome (the viruses that normally live inside human beings) impacts the microbiome.

It’s not neonatalogists and pediatricians since they aren’t going to “believe” anything about the microbiome that isn’t established by microbiologists. That goes for obstetricians, too. So the ONLY people who “believe” that the neonatal microbiome is crucial to the development of the health and future wellbeing of infants … the only people who believe that vaginal birth is necessary to create the proper neonatal microbiome … the only people who “believe” that C-section deprives babies of the necessary microbiome are ideologues committed to unmedicated vaginal birth and strongly opposed to C-sections.

The movie Microbirth, therefore, is yet another attempt to bolster the alternative world of internal legitimacy that characterizes NCB advocacy. It was produced by, about, and for natural childbirth advocates, and is designed to convince the gullible who are ignorant of basic microbiology and desperate to demonize C-sections.

My questions for the midwives, doulas and natural childbirth advocates waxing rhapsodic about Microbirth are these:

1. How can you be so oblivious as to fail to notice that the only people promoting Microbirth are people with no expertise in microbiology?

2. Are you so ignorant and naive that you would actually believe a movie about microbiology made by people who have no expert knowledge of microbiology?

3. Why are you foolish enough to imagine that natural childbirth advocates either know or care more about the wellbeing of infants than neonatologists and pediatricians?

4. Can’t you see that you are being manipulated?

5. Or are you just so desperate to believe that you simply don’t care?

Inquiring minds want to know.