Moral Landscapes

Living the life that is good for one to live

Ten Ways to Truly Respect Motherhood

Honoring moms before, during, after birth

When my mother was having her children in the 1950s and 1960s, mothers were "knocked out" and babies were extracted with forceps and taken away. Such disrespect of mothers, babies, and motherhood! You can see the resulting damaged bonding of mothers to children in this time period in shows like Mad Men or movies like The Hours. Many disrespectful practices still exist today--- to the detriment of moms, babies and society.

Here is a preliminary list of ways to respect mothers, babies and motherhood.

Before and during pregnancy, and after child is born

1. Provide extensive social support of the mother as a person.Of course this starts with the mother’s early life—being well supported, cared for and nourished—so that when she becomes a mother she can be self-assured, confident and in touch with her body signals. This is normal in indigenous cultures.

2. Provide social support for the mother-child dyad. Mothers do not commit to babies by themselves. To be totally committed they need to know that the community is with them.

3. Help moms-to-be and mothers stay relaxed. Fetuses receive the communications from their mother’s body—when mom is stressed the baby’s body becomes stressed, leading to irritability and other problems after birth. Mothers have difficulty being warmly responsive to their children’s needs when they are food insecure or lack social support. 

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4. Encourage loving attention to children. Children expect to be loved and nurtured. Babies become upset when their evolved expectations are not met. And babies are needy. Well-cared-for mothers are eager to meet their needs.

5. Good nutrition. What the mother and father eat before conception matters for the child’s health. What mother eats during pregnancy and breastfeeding influences the health and food preferences of the child.

At childbirth

6. Social support (doula to coach mom; midwife with wisdom of women’s body signals). As humans evolved, assistance with childbirth also became more common. Current research shows that a mom-centered birthing coach (doula) is linked to better outcomes for mom and baby.

7. Offer alternatives to drugs (e.g., epidurals) which interfere with maternal-child bonding. breastfeeding, and wellbeing of the dyad—with longterm consequences for society. Doulas are an alternative that probably end up being least costly in multiple ways. In contrast, drugs in a mother transfer to the fetus who has no liver function to expel them for many weeks. Drugged babies have difficulty latching on to the breast for feeding. This is the slippery slope to using formula, a choice that should be used only in emergencies. (Studies on drug addicts should examine whether they are more likely to have started life as a drugged baby.)

8. Keep baby and mother together with gentle practices as they “imprint” on one another and start their relationship. This means immediate skin-to-skin contact; no painful procedures on the baby in the first days of life; no separation of mom and baby; no use of pacifiers, sugar water, formula.

Imagine in the heat of making love, separating and having your teeth drilled. This is what it is like for the baby at birth with the various painful procedures used (e.g., suction, heel pricks, eye ointment, harsh cloth). The magic of connection is lost. And how would you like pain to be your first impression of the world?

After childbirth

9. Integrate baby and mother into regular social and work life. Mothers are not meant to be isolated with children. The massive depression that plagues US mothers after birth is unusual in the history of the world --- if it were “normal” our species would have died out long ago. Hospital practices contribute to incidents of depression when they separate mom and baby (mom’s body assumes the child is dead).

10. Alloparents sensitively co-care for child. Babies are meant to be cared for by an extended family of caring adults that passes the child around and provides the 24/7 companionship care that babies expect.


Do these practice sound hard?
If so, it’s only because we have let our societies move so far away from them. These practices are part of our evolutionary heritage and lead to mom and baby wellbeing.

How do we get there from here?

Hospitals need to change their childbirth practices with thoughts towards long term consequences for mother-child bonding, child development and health.

Hospitals need to become breastfeeding friendly and friendly to optimal health outcomes.

Society needs to provide sufficient support to women, mothers, fathers and families so that stress of having and raising children is minimized.

Parents, along with family members, need to be educated about what babies need, what the options are for birthing and for childrearing.

Workplaces need to allow parents to bring babies to work. When babies are well-cared for according to evolved expectations, they are not noisy and annoying.

I salute my mother today. She struggled to be a mother when the world around was hostile to her and to her children. My pledge to her now is to make the world less hostile for mothers and for babies.

 

References

Davis, E.P., & Sandman, C.A. (2010). The timing of prenatal exposure to maternal cortisol and psychological stress is associated with human infant cognitive development. Child Development 81(1), 131-148.

Davis, E.P., Glynn, L.M., Dunkel-Schetter, C., Hobel, C., Chicz-DeMet, A. & Sandman, D.A. (2007). Prenatal exposure to maternal depression and cortisol influences infant temperament. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 737-746.

Davis, E.P., Townsend, E.L., Gunnar, M.R., Georgieff, M.K., Guiang, S.F., Cifuentes, R.F., et al.  (2004). Effects of prenatal corticosteroid exposure on regulation of stress physiology in healthy premature infants. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29, 1028-1036.

Hrdy, S. B. (2009). Mothers and others: The evolutionary origins of mutual understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Leathwood, P., & Maier, A. (2005). Early influences on taste preferences. Nestlé Nutrition Workshop Ser Pediatric Program, 56, 127-141.

Mennella, J.A. (1995). Mother’s milk: a medium for early flavor experiences. Journal fo Human Lactation, 1.

Mennella, J.A., Jagnow, C.P., Beauchamp, G.K. (2001). Prenatal and postnatal flavor learning by human infants. Pediatrics, 107(6).

Rosen, P. (2004). Supporting women in labor: analysis of different types of caregivers. Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health, 49(1), 24-31.
Scott, K.D., Berkowitz, G., & Klaus, M. (1999). A comparison of intermittent and continuous support during labor: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 180(5), 1054-1059.
Trevathan, W. (2011). Human birth. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Trevarthen, C. (2005).  Action and emotion in development of the human self, its sociability and cultural intelligence: Why infants have feelings like ours. In J. Nadel and D. Muir (Eds.) Emotional Development (pp. 61-91). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waterland, R.A., & Jirtle, R.L. (2003). Transposable elements: Targets for early nutritional effects on epigenetic gene regulation. Molecular Cellular Biology, 23, 5293-5300.

Whitaker, R.C., Phillips, S.M., & Orzol, S.M. (2006). Food insecurity and the risks of depression and anxiety in mothers and behavior problems in their preschool-aged children. Pediatrics, 118(3), e859 -e868.

Zhang, J., Bernasko, J.W., Leybovich, E., Fahs, M., & Hatch, MC. (1996). Continuous labor support from labor attendant for primiparous women: A meta-analysis. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 88(4), 739–744.

 

Darcia Narvaez is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and Executive Editor of the Journal of Moral Education.

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