The Case for Bonding at Birth
Society is so plagued by guilt over birth that it actively shames families who want a good birth. It's burdened with how we've forced decades of babies to start life, and it shames anyone who calls for something different. Society humiliates and condemns any mother who wants the best for her baby and her own mothering journey. It's time to stop; it's time to make the case for bonding at birth.
A Birthright Betrayed
Nature designed babies to go from a mother's womb to her arms, her chest, her breasts. That's what babies expect. Nature designed mothers to carry their babies in their wombs, their arms, their hearts. That's what mothers expect.
That's not what happens.
Modern labor is fundamentally changed by drugs and procedures. They give you an inherent disadvantage – they rob you of a normal, natural labor. Natural hormones, such as oxytocin, beta-endorphin, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine, etc., all work together to create safety during and after birth. And they create the perfect environment for you to meet your baby.
Instead, we push babies, pull them, and sometimes drag them out of the womb. We wrap them in scratchy blankets or swoop them through cold air to hard tables. Mothers are left gasping, overwhelmed, often in pain while other people handle their babies.
Gloved hands rub off all evidence of the womb (along with protective, antibacterial vernix). Your baby looks pretty and pink as a result, but your body is expecting a baby that smells like your womb… and your baby needs that scent to find where to breastfeed (the nipples secrete oils that smell like amniotic fluid and baby uses this smell on his/her hands to find food).
The worst part of it all? If you ask for something different for your baby, if you fight to have a natural, normal birth (physiological birth) and have your naked baby put on your naked chest right away… if you fight for these first moments for you and your baby, you'll be ridiculed and probably condemned as selfish.
After all, aren't you selfish not to take advantage of all that medical technology provides? After all, weren't decades of babies safe and healthy after going through modern birth procedures? After all, aren't you judging mothers who didn't or couldn't give that kind of a start to their babies?
Yes, there are medical emergencies. Babies who must meet a resuscitation team as they struggle for breath. Babies who have a life and a mother because modern medicine saved them both.
Yes, there are babies born to mothers who cannot keep them, and we must hand those babies over to somebody else within their first moments.
But why is this an excuse? Why is this a justification for the betrayal of everything our babies hold dear to them?
Why are we putting our babies in boxes? Why are we leaving mothers with aching hearts and empty arms?
Why are we surprised postpartum depression is at all-time high? Why are we surprised so many women choose to just say no to motherhood?
It's criminal to condemn every baby and every mother to an interrupted beginning just because a few babies really need that. And it's criminal to deny mothers and babies with interrupted beginnings the healing they need.
What We Lose
Why are you accused of being selfish when you long for a good birth and a smooth start for your baby? Having a physiological birth means a safer third stage for mother and baby. Postpartum hemorrhage risk drastically decreases.
In an undisturbed birth you bring baby to your chest or tummy, where you study your baby, stroke and caress your baby (you might spend a few moments gazing at your newborn below you before you bring him/her up).
You smell your baby. Baby smells you and smells the birth fluids on his/her hands. Your baby moves towards your breasts (remember, their smell is familiar), nuzzling, licking, and just “checking things out.”
Levels of “the love hormone” oxytocin skyrocket to their very highest, causing you to fall in love with your baby. Your baby falls in love with. An incredibly powerful bond is born. (The hormone levels are so high, in fact, that they influence everyone else in the room.)
Beta-endorphin levels are also high, creating a sense that you and your baby (and maybe Daddy/siblings) are the only people there. The universe revolves around this precious beginning and nothing else matters. Other hormones are also working in a beautiful orchestra to create safety as the placenta is born and the uterus begins to clamp down. Drugs, such as Pitocin/Syntocinin, interrupt this hormonal interplay and can greatly increase danger in this stage.
There You Are
Everything that you and your baby are doing to get to know each other contribute to safety. As your naked baby is on your naked chest (or tummy), your body helps baby regulate his/her temperature. The beauty doesn't stop there. Your skin also helps regulate your baby's breathing, metabolism, and even his or her blood sugar levels.
You and your baby have waited months to meet each other. This is a beautiful moment, as Carla Hartley says, it's
There You Are
You and your baby have been waiting for this moment. Finally, she sees you and says “Mama, there you are!” Finally, you see him and say “precious little one, there you are!”
The Case for Change
Surely I know, as do you, that not every mother and baby can have a natural, unmedicated birth or an undisturbed beginning. We can certainly make this reality for almost every mother and her child. Surely you can fight for this for yourself and your child.
Society needs to stop shaming you for wanting this, for preparing for this, and for fighting for this. And we, as a society, need to take a critical look at the way we treat mothers and babies – even the few who cannot have an undisturbed start.
Surely even the sick or premature infant can have the loving warmth of human touch and not a plastic box. Surely they can have the loving presence of somebody who cares about them, even if they're too delicate for mother's arms. Surely we can offer them this comfort in their moments of weakness. We can let them grieve and help them heal once they are strong enough for our arms.
Yes, humans can bond even after birth. Don't reduce birth's importance just because we're born with a spirit that can overcome adversity. Hold your baby close, with nothing between you, and celebrate love and life as soon as you can.
Let us give babies who must lose the mother of their birth our greatest compassion. And when you hold the precious baby that another mother has given you to love and to cherish, hold your baby close, with nothing between, acknowledging his or her loss. Then celebrate the love and life that you have to give.
All mothers and all babies deserve to start with the very best bond. Honor your baby. Honor yourself. Help the mother and the baby who lose the precious moments to heal and to create a beautiful bond – and realize that the loss of some does not mean we must deny those moments for all.
Surely it's worth fighting for a good beginning for every mother, every baby, and every family.
- Will the Real Oxytocin Please Stand Up
- Why Families Choose Natural Childbirth
- Childbirth Doesn't Have to be This Way
- Preparing for a Natural Birth
Sarah Buckley. Chapter 6 of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. 2009 Celestial Arts.
Kendrick, Keith. M. (2000), Oxytocin, motherhood and bonding. Experimental Physiology, 85: 111s–124s. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-445X.2000.tb00014.xSingh G, Archana G. Unraveling the mystery of the vernix caseosa. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53:54–60.
Vaglio S. Chemical communication and mother-infant recognition. Commun Integr Biol. 2009 May;2(3):279-81.
Bonding Matters. . . The Chemistry of Attachment. Attachment Parenting International News, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2002
Odent, Michel. “Preventing Postpartum Haemorrhage.” Midwifery Today, Issue 105, Spring 2013.