Vaginal Birth Better For Brains

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C-section BabyAccording to new research by Yale scientists, it appears that natural labor and vaginal birth trigger the expression of genes that produce mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2v (UCP2) in mice, a protein critical for proper development and functioning of neurons.

We observed a significantly higher level of UCP2 protein expression at the day of delivery in animals that were born via [vaginal birth] compared to those with [c-section] (Fig. 2). In naturally born mice, UCP2 protein remained elevated early post-nataly (P10) as well as in adulthood (Fig. 2).

Obviously, mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2v is only one of many proteins that affect our children’s brain development. So no need for undue guilt if you’ve had a C-section. What this study suggests is that birth as nature intended it, no drugs, no interventions, no surgery, is better for the long term health and well-being of our children than medicalized, surgical birth.

This study has raised a lot of controversy and sparked heated commentary on the baby and birthing blog scene. People are angry and offended at the nerve of these scientists in suggesting that their children’s development may have suffered as a result of how they were born.

Why is it so hard to imagine that being born naturally is better for our children’s bodies and minds when, as a society, we have embraced that eating naturally gives kids a better start nutritionally? Is it that much of a stretch to imagine that being pumped full of drugs at the time of birth can mess a kid up down the road? Is it that hard to believe failing to experience all the hormones and stressors that nature intended during natural labor and vaginal birth can cause side effects later on? I don’t think so.



Labor is stressful for mother and for child. It’s meant to be that way for a reason. The body produces three major hormones during labor and birth: oxytocin, the hormone which initiates uterine contractions, endorphins, euphoric hormones which help laboring women tolerate the discomfort of labor, and adrenaline and noradrenaline, stress hormones which prepare the mother to give birth to her baby and prepare the baby for life outside the womb. A woman’s body knows exactly how much of each of these hormones to produce in order to successfully birth a baby. When labor is disturbed or medical intervention occurs, these hormone levels are thrown off and oftentimes, labor fails to progress or the baby experiences distress. These are indisputable facts.

Babies born by scheduled C-section, on the other hand, do not experience this cocktail of hormones. They go from peacefully resting in their mothers’ bellies as a fetus, and get plucked out without any prior physiological preparation. It’s like being fast asleep in your warm, snuggly bed and then suddenly waking up in the middle of the street on a grey and cloudy morning in your birthday suit. Not cool. As a result, C-section babies often have trouble breathing and end up spending time in the NICU.

Natural labor prepares babies for birth, both physiologically and chemically. The study also found that the trip down the birth canal and the temporary lack of oxygen that occurs during this travel, contributes to the production of UCP2, the protein known to promote neural development.

 It is reasonable to suggest that Ucp2 mRNA induction may be associated with hypoxia/ischemia that accompanies vaginal birth. An intracellular mechanism that is known to be activated by hypoxia/ischemia is AMPK [15], which is an upstream inducer of Ucp2 induction in neurons.

The bottom line folks, is that, like it or not, babies born vaginally have a better start than those born by scheduled C-section. Sometimes the surgery is unavoidable due to medical complications; other times it can and should be avoided. This study definitely adds to the body of research that suggests we should avoid C-sections unless absolutely medically necessary.




To read more about the hormones released during natural labor: Hormones Driving Labor and Birth


Monica Profile Photo FooterMonica is a Certified HypnoBirthing® practitioner serving the Northern Virginia area, DC and some parts of Maryland. Her practice is called NoVA HypnoBirthing® LLC and she provides group as well as private classes.