Vaginally-Born Babies Can Have Respiratory Issues Too: My Own Experience

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So in my recent post about the benefits of vaginal birth I shared a lot of studies that show increased rates of asthma, allergies, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and others among children who were born by cesarean. Whenever I share about negatives associated with a certain practice or outcome I’m afraid of making parents who have experienced those outcomes feel criticized or judged or guilty or just bad in any way.

Cesarean birth does increase those risks, but it is just one of many factors. There are so many decisions you make as a parent that are important to your kids. And let’s be honest, physical health matters, but there are lots of things that matter more to our kids, like feeling safe, knowing they’re precious to you, nurturing their souls. And there are all kinds of outcomes we can’t control. Nothing we do can guarantee a perfectly healthy kid.

When I was preparing for the birth of my firstborn avoiding a c-section was a pretty high priority to me. I knew the cesarean rate was high in the US and wanted to decrease my risk as much as possible. I switched care providers around 30 weeks because of the red flags I was seeing in my initial care, and I had a pretty textbook vaginal delivery.

And my son still has a weak respiratory system. So I just want to share my own experience in hopes that parents won’t feel like they’ve somehow failed their child if the child was born by cesarean. And to remind them that there are sometimes circumstances that are simply outside our control, but that there are a thousand good ways to be a parent that are within their control.

My Own Experience with Having a Child with Respiratory Issues

My two sons were both born vaginally. They were born at home, so they weren’t exposed to some of the concerning bacteria more common in a hospital setting.

But my oldest is definitely prone to respiratory issues. It seems like every time there is a respiratory bug going around he gets it and gets it bad. Though he’s never been officially diagnosed with asthma, as a baby he had wheezing , and we gave him albuterol through a nebulizer (though we chose to forego the steroids). I’m pretty cautious with medication for my kids, but it was definitely scary enough for me to give it to him without a second thought. Though he’s not as sensitive as he used to be, he easily develops asthma symptoms whenever he has more than a miniscule amount of dairy.

So he has the birth factors for a lower risk of respiratory issues, yet he still has them. I have my own theories as to why he does have them and why my second child doesn’t (at least not yet).

What My Kids Have in Common

1. With both babies, my water didn’t break until pretty shortly before they were born, so they had less time to be “soaking” in vaginal flora. Was this within my control? Technically, yes, I guess I could have asked to have my midwife break my water sooner, but not much sooner, because I’ve had pretty quick births. And there are risks to artificial rupture of membranes that, for me, aren’t worth the possible benefit of my baby being exposed to vaginal flora for a slightly longer period of time.

2. I don’t know that my own microbiome was all that healthy to pass on to them. Mothers pass their microbiome almost directly to their babies, and my own mother was not breastfed, so when I was born, her own microbiome was probably not in optimal health. And I wasn’t very consistent about taking probiotics or anything. I don’t know if this has anything to do with it; it’s just something I wonder about. Do I have control over the microbiome that was passed on to me? Nope. Could I have improved my own microbiome more? Probably. But I’m not beating myself up about it.

3. My husband has asthma and allergies, so I wonder if there’s a genetic component. Do I have control over his genetics? Nope.

So these are all factors that both my babies have in common – same birth setting, similar birth events, and same dad. But my second baby is now 11 months old, and so far he hasn’t had the respiratory issues that my firstborn has (which started around 9-10 months).

What We Did Differently with Baby #2

Of course there were some differences between my first and second. They obviously have a difference set of genetics, though with some in common. My first was born in late fall, my second in early summer. We skipped the Vitamin K shot with my second. We already knew we weren’t going to circumcise, so we didn’t get it. Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought at the time, and future babies might get the shot, or we may do the oral vitamin K drops. I just haven’t researched it enough to be sure I’m comfortable either way. Here‘s a great article from Evidence Based Birth on the research behind the vitamin K shot.

I’m not sure what if any effect any of those differences have had on my second born’s respiratory health, and some of them aren’t within my control. But there is one thing we purposefully and conscientiously did differently.

We introduced food differently.

With my firstborn, I did a modified baby-led weaning approach.   He had a few tastes of food around 5 months, and I started giving him a small amount of food every day starting at 6 months. He got his first tooth at 7 months, and by 8 or 9 months, I was pretty laid-back about what he ate. He didn’t eat junk food or anything, but as long as it was real, unprocessed food, I wasn’t too worried about it. So he definitely had dairy and eggs and nuts and some of those other harder-to-digest foods well before a year old. And we eventually discovered he had a dairy intolerance that significantly worsened his respiratory issues, especially the asthmatic wheezing.

With my second, I was really hoping to avoid food allergies and intolerances, so I took a different approach. We still did a sort of modified baby-led weaning approach (by modified, I mean we mostly let our babies pick up food and feed themselves, experiencing a greater variety in textures, but when it was convenient we mashed up food and spoon-fed them).

But this time we introduced foods more slowly, starting with foods that were the most easily digestible, and then moving on to harder-to-digest foods, per the recommendation of our naturopath. He also had a few tastes of food around 5 months and started eating food more consistently at 6 months, but he already had teeth by 4 and a half months, so quite a bit earlier than my firstborn.

So far he’s mostly just had fruits and veggies (minus the more acidic ones like strawberries, tomatoes, pineapple, etc.) and beans. He’s getting his molars now, so we’ve tried a few grains (no gluten yet) and a tiny bit of meat. We’ll still wait a while for dairy, gluten, and nuts. We make additions slowly so that we can watch for reactions, and if he does show any signs of sensitivity we stop the new food and try it again after a month or two. By this age, my first born had started wheezing. We’ll have to wait and see if my second baby develops asthma or any other respiratory issues, but so far, so good.

Ultimately, I don’t know if this different approach to feeding will make a big difference for my second child’s health. He also has a different set of genes to work with. But I have more information now, along with my personal experience with my first child, and I’m trying something different.

I share my own experience not because the research and statistics on method of delivery and childhood health doesn’t matter; I believe it does. I just share it because the development of these health issues is so multifaceted, and statistics are just that, statistics. Nothing we do can guarantee perfect physical, psychological, or spiritual health in our children. We just do the best we can with the knowledge we’ve gathered, the choices we’ve made, and the circumstances we’ve been given.  

I’m not totally sold on any one way of infant food introduction. I’d love to hear  your own experience of how you introduced food to your baby and if they have any food allergies, asthma, etc. Tell me about it in the comments!

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