Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Anthropology



Major Advisor

John P. Ziker, Ph.D.


Kristin Snopkowski, Ph.D.


Robert Graff, Ph.D.


A wealth of research has been amassed and continues to grow through efforts to understand the complex nature of the relationship between the colonization and development of the human gut microbiota, its influence on the development of the immune system, and its role in both health and disease. Since previous research has demonstrated early life conditions can influence the colonization and development of the human gut microbiota, it is critical to understand how circumstances around the birthing process affect long-term outcomes beginning at this crucial stage in our development. Using the 1970 British Cohort Study, this thesis examines the relationship between birthing conditions and the outcomes of overall health, mental health, and reproduction using the evolutionary framework of life history theory through backwards stepwise regression analyses. Results indicated being born at home or use of maternal pain relief during labor resulted in a lower occurrence of infections and childhood diseases. As well, being born at home, having an assisted vaginal delivery, or use of maternal pain relief during labor resulted in a decrease in the likelihood of respiratory issues. Contrary to expectation, elective cesarean delivery predicted a lower likelihood of developing respiratory issues in this birth cohort and requires future research. Use of maternal anesthetics during labor resulted in a greater occurrence of digestive issues. Interestingly, being born at home with a medical practitioner and being born in a medical facility with a medical practitioner both correlated with an earlier age of menarche. Being born at home was also found to correlate with a greater likelihood of a cohort member having a greater number of offspring themselves. Surprisingly, birthing conditions did not predict the likelihood of a cohort member developing depression in this study. From the results, there appears to be a connection between conditions that present an early life stress and negative health outcomes as well as an earlier age of menarche. These results are consistent with predictions from life history theory. The results also suggest that a reduction of stress for the birthing mother could present a reduction in early life stress for a fetus leading to a lower occurrence of immune dysfunction that translates to a decreased likelihood of respiratory issues and infections and childhood diseases. Additionally, the results for the reproduction outcome suggest that conditions representative of early life stress or extrinsic risk, whether that risk be increased exposure to pathogens or due to a more difficult birth, lead to an earlier age of menarche. While other research has concluded that cesarean section is detrimental for long-term health outcomes of the fetus, my findings demonstrate complex and multi-faceted relationships between early life conditions and long-term outcomes. By approaching future studies looking at birthing conditions and their relationship with long-term outcomes from a holistic perspective, a more comprehensive understanding of the role birthing conditions and surrounding circumstances have on overall health, mental health, and reproduction outcomes can be achieved.



Available for download on Thursday, August 20, 2020