Make America’s Kids Healthy: Soothing Birth
The beginning of life sets trajectories for health and wellbeing.
Posted Jun 30, 2018
How many moms you know (yourself included) have experienced a soothing birth? Not many hands raised in the USA, unless for example, you were in a birthing facility governed by midwives, or in one that lost power, as described in the expose book by Jennifer Block, Pushed.
What should be happening at birth, according to our evolutionary heritage? The natural rhythms of the baby and mother should be followed. The fetus signals chemically when it is ready to be born (which varies naturally among babies by about 2 months!) and the mother’s body responds. The mother is ready to give herself over to her body’s intelligence for how to bear a baby. The context is quiet, dark and calm. There is little thinking by mom (wrong part of the brain to be in charge) but feeling and sensing the flow and responding to it. Unless there are signs of risk or distress, no one interferes with this process—it is treated as sacred space where the mother can let herself go into primal being, often standing up or moving around in various positions to minimize the pain of contractions (which is also mitigated by the biochemicals her body is producing to actually make it more enjoyable—ecstatic for some moms!).
After the marvel of birth, the mother and baby are together, letting the cord pulse for several minutes to complete its transfer of vital chemicals before it is cut. There is no separation of mom and baby and no painful procedures. Ideally, the baby is placed on the mother’s belly and is allowed to find its way to the mother’s breast to massage a nipple and start the mother’s colostrum flowing (full of vitamin K) and the process of skin-to-skin touch and breastfeeding helps mom and baby quickly recover from the birth experience.
It goes without saying that birthing practices that go against the mother and baby’s rhythms are detrimental—they can throw the whole process off balance. Once medical intervention starts, it’s a slippery slope to more and more interventions (see The Business of Being Born). When mom’s own process and instincts are doubted by medical staff, the mother too can lose confidence, leading to fear, which shuts down the natural flow of helpful biochemical changes. Manipulation of mom then extends to baby who is typically exposed to bright lights, noxious odors, and painful experiences (circumcision, suction, shots, pin pricks, rough blankets) and worst of all, separation from mother (see Liu et al., 2007, for a review of effects of many practices in the neonatal intensive care unit). All these are stressors that add up and can lead the child in the wrong developmental pathway—to habituated fear and distress.
Harsh practices induce stress and foster brain changes that can become permanent if their duration is intense, long, or unmitigated (Lanius et al., 2010). Mother-child bonding can be disrupted (Buckley, 2015).
You would think that with all the medical supervision, US moms would be well off. But no, the USA has the worst rate of maternal childbirth death rates in the developed world.
It’s time for birthing options for healthy women to follow what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends: Midwife guided birth in birthing units that are loathe to interfere with natural processes in low risk situations.
Next post, a mom’s birthing experience and reawakening.
Some Books for Birthing Self-Preparation:
Suzanne Arms. Immaculate Deception
Suzanne Arms, Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth
Nancy Bardacke (RN, CNM, MA), Mindful Birthing
Block, J. (2007). Pushed: The painful truth about childbirth and modern maternity care. New York: Lifelong books/Da Capo/Perseus.
Buckley, S.J. (2015). Hormonal physiology of childbearing: Evidence and implications for women, babies, and maternity care. Washington, D.C.: Childbirth Connection Programs, National Partnership for Women & Families.
Klaus, M.H., & Kennell, J.H. (1976/1983). Maternal-infant bonding: The impact of early separation or loss on family development. St. Louis, MO: C.V. Mosby.
Lanius, R. A., Vermetten, E., & Pain, C. (Eds.) (2010). The impact of early life trauma on health and disease: The hidden epidemic. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Liu, W.F., Laudert, S., Perkins, B., MacMillan-York, E., Martin, S., & Graven, S. for the NIC/Q 2005 Physical Environment Exploratory Group (2007). The development of potentially better practices to support the neurodevelopment of infants in the NICU. Journal of Perinatology, 27, S48–S74.
Trevathan, W.R. (2011). Human birth: An evolutionary perspective, 2nd ed.. New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.
SERIES: Make America’s Children Healthy Again