the Aloha Planet
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Why a water birth protects the baby’s brain
John C. Lilly, M.D. studied the relationship of brain and body size to behavior. He found, for example, that it seems to take at least 1000 grams of brain to achieve human-style language. One day, he was examining a Sperm whale brain - which weighs some 9600 grams and is the largest brain on the planet.
The brain had been removed from the skull and placed in a fluid in a bowl. When walking and carrying the brain, he noticed that even small ripples in the fluid caused bleeding in the brain. Brain tissue has the consistency of weak "Jell-O" and even these mild waves were enough to cause damage. Lilly realized that the larger the brain, the more easily it could be damaged by even mild accelerations.
This meant that for a large brain to survive, it had to exist in a large body to damp shocks, bumps, or other accelerations. He calculated the maximum angular acceleration that a brain could take at various sizes and plotted this curve (the light blue line in the illustration below)
We see that humans, dolphins, elephants and whales have the largest brain sizes they can have for their body size. This is important: We, the elephants, and the Cetacea all have the largest brains that we can possibly have for our body sizes, with large enough bodies to damp accelerations.
Birth generally occurs when the baby’s head is just able to fit through the pelvis. Human babies have a large brain and a small body with its largest brain/body weight ratio at birth as seen in the graph below, right.
Therefore, the chance of damaging accelerations is greatest at birth, especially with the skull plates soft and moveable. The best way to minimize accelerations is to birth the baby into water, which damps accelerations and insures neutrally buoyant support as the baby is delivered from amniotic fluid directly to water.
Hence the better outcomes seen in underwater births. Since the water babies develop 6 months faster in their first 2 years, and are ambidextrous, we feel that this shows the degree of damage caused by ordinary birthing and demonstrates the importance of optimal birth practices to the wellbeing of our babies.