More comedy gold from Sarah Pope, The Healthy Home Economist


I admit I was wrong. I thought Sarah Pope, whose nom de quack is The Healthy Home Economist, had reached the apogee of idiocy with her advice to lie to your child’s pediatrician about raw milk. But Pope has now outdone her previous efforts in her new piece Toxic Effects of Water Birth on Mom and Baby. Strap on your tin foil hat and prepare for a hilarious ride.

What’s the problem with waterbirth? According to Pope:

A concern rarely if ever mentioned about water birth is the significant chlorine exposure that both mother and baby experience during the labor and delivery process. Many mothers who are careful to filter their drinking water during pregnancy to remove chlorine and other toxins seem to give little to no thought about soaking for hours in the very same water or giving birth to their precious newborn in it.

Bathing or showering in treated water is known to expose a person to a significant amount of outgassed chlorine that is absorbed via inhalation and the skin.

Really? Says who? Says Joe Mercola, quack shill extraordinaire.

But wait! There’s more:

The most insidious result of exposure to treated water during the water birth process is the adverse effect on gut flora… The compromise to bodily flora comes at a time when baby’s gut needs to be seeded properly with the beneficial microbes that will guard health and bolster immunity for a lifetime. Any beneficial microbes present in Mom’s birth canal will be either weakened, destroyed, or severely damaged by exposure to the chlorinated water by the time baby passes through.

Pope references herself for this claim.

It’s a sobering thought:

Think about it … all that work you have done with your diet for 9 months limiting sugar, consuming fermented foods and taking probiotic supplements to optimally prepare the birth canal for baby’s entrance into the world potentially wiped out by the decision to have a water birth.

And that’s not all:

In addition, exposure of the baby’s skin to the treated water in the birth pool destroys the healthy biofilm on the baby’s skin called the vernix caseosa. The vernix is protective of baby’s delicate skin and has anti-infective and antioxidant properties. It should never be wiped or washed off until it comes off naturally some days after birth.

Moreover, the warm moist air in the delivery room from the birthing tub water is the first air that baby breathes, and it is contaminated with chloroform, disinfection byproducts, and VOCs like trihalomethanes. Not exactly the optimal air to be filling baby’s lungs with at birth, don’t you think?

The horror!

Vernix is not a biofilm, and much of the rest of this is utter nonsense, but who cares about accuracy when fabricating fear-mongering for the gullible? Not Sarah, that’s for sure.

At the risk of gilding the lily, Pope goes all out and adds the real dangers of waterbirth:

… A study in 2004 of the water in a birth pool that had been filtered and thoroughly cleaned found high concentrations of the pathogens E. coli, coliform, staph, and P. aeruginosa.

Just recently, a baby in Texas died from contracting Legionnaires’ Disease from a contaminated birthing pool. The infant was born in a tub full of well water that hadn’t been chemically disinfected and died after 19 days in the hospital…

In addition, a 2004 review of the medical literature found 74 articles and 16 citations of infants who experienced serious complications from water birthing. These included death, drowning, near-drowning, waterborne bacterial infections, cord rupture and fever (11).

What’s going on here? Why has Pope attacked a practice beloved of the alternative birth crowd?

Remember that alternative health is almost entirely reflexive defiance of standard practice and authority figures. It is a testament to the popularity of both waterbirth and midwives that Pope see waterbirth as “standard” practice and views midwives as authority figures.

Moreover, popularity in the alternative health blogosphere depends on finding and railing against ever more ridiculous “risks.” Food Babe complains that there is no pumpkin in pumpkin spice lattes (Duh! It contains pumpkin spice, a mixture of spices typically found in pumpkin pie). And she was horrified to discover that airlines pump less than 100% oxygen into airplane cabins. She was apparently unaware that the air we breathe contains only 21% oxygen. The Health Home Economist is similarly trying to garner attention by making ever more outrageous claims.

Even a clock that is stopped is right twice a day. Coincidentally, she’s correct that waterbirth is dangerous but it has nothing to do with outgassing of chlorine, the microbiome or vernix. The danger is that babies do breathe as their heads emerge and can aspirate fecally contaminated water into their lungs.

In general, when it comes to health advice, Sarah Pope is an ignorant amateur. But when it comes to creating comedy gold from blithering nonsense, Pope is a real pro.