The Straight Poop

I’m sharing today’s post from Brain, Child’s new blog for several reasons:

  1. Because it is a hilarious short piece about pooping during childbirth, which also involves a brief misunderstanding about whether the author’s midwife reached orgasm during the labor.
  2. Because Brain, Child is an excellent magazine you should all subscribe to if you are interested in thinking and parenthood.  (I thought this long, long before I had an essay published in it).
  3. Because it fascinates me that this woman took a childbirth class where Pooping During Pushing only came up incidentally and quietly and kind of indirectly.  Did her teacher say “fecal matter”? Ladies, come to my class and we will be real and talk about All The Things. 
  4. Speaking of which, here’s the real scoop on the poop: 

 If you’re pushing something large down the birth canal (i.e. your baby), in all likelihood you’ll also push some stool out, too.  The same muscle groups control all the exits down there. You’ll probably squeeze some pee out, too, while we’re mentioning Things. 

You might not even know it happens:  If you have pain medication, you won’t feel it; if you don’t have pain medication, you may have so much sensation that you don’t particularly register a bit of poo on top of everything else.  In both cases, if your partner isn’t looking, s/he may not see your midwife or doctor wipe it away briskly.  She will wipe it away quickly because she, like the rest of us, does not want to hang around beside a steaming pile of poo while we wait for the rest of your baby to emerge.  This may be what happened in the author’s first two births. 

The thing is, it’s really all OK.  This is not a parenting fail, at all.  At all.  In fact, to the contrary: I hate to gross you all out even more, but it’s actually really OK if a tiny bit of poo is on your baby.  Think about it people:

  • lets say no actual visible turd emerges.  Do you really think that your anus is sterile?  If your baby is born with her nose essentially pressed against your butt hole, she is going to get some particles of poo on her no matter what you do.
  • What is in that poop?  A whole lot of your gut bacteria.  And yes, it goes up your baby’s nose and possibly into her mouth, and from there it gets into her gut.  And that (plus her trip through the birth canal, where, to be clear, your vaginal microbes get on and into her) is what helps “colonize the infant gut with protective microbes” (translation: all the good-guy germs that live inside your tush and vagina go into her nose and mouth and then start growing inside her). And this, despite the lemon face you may have just made, is a very good thing. These great, helpful, protective gut bacteria keep her healthy, protect her against infection, regulate the immune system, and neural development, and apparently affect her metabolism for the rest of her life.  In short, it may be one of the best things you ever do for her!

As my great friend, certified childbirth educator Ceridwen Morris says, “It’s not a mistake that human babies are born with their face an inch away from their mother’s asshole.”  Chew on that for a while.

UPDATE, 5/16/13:  This excellent article in this weekend’s NY Times Magazine discusses the importance of gut bacteria and the “fine patina” of poop that, for better or for worse, coats basically everything.  It’s an awesome piece, but even the intrepid Michael Pollan glosses over the birth-poop-connection.  He says:

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.”  

It’s a funny world when you can have a feature article about how important your poop-bacteria are, but not be clear that Vadge-And-Butt-To-Nose-Transfer is where it all begins.