Why Bonding Matters

Posted - 8 October, 2013
Shortly after the successful home birth of our daughter she was passed to my husband where she spent the first two hours of her life nuzzled on his shirtless chest. I was unable to cuddle with her during the whole golden hour after birth but my husband was. It turned out that all that drinking I was doing to stay hydrated and I.V. free during my natural home birth caused my bladder to fill up and block my placenta from coming out. Apparently, I should have remembered to pee. It took over two hours before I was finally free of that dangling cord and the midwives finally figured out to catheterize me to empty my bladder. While I was getting afterbirth care my baby was getting the vital skin to skin contact that newborns need – through her dad.
The time when everyone leaves you alone and you get to spend the first few hours smelling your baby is sacred. Yes, smelling her. Amniotic fluid is one of the sweetest, most indescribable smells in the entire world and can literally cause you to become lightheaded and almost pass out because you can’t stop smelling your baby. It only lasts three days before you unintentionally rub it off because you can’t stop smothering and kissing your baby in a state of absolute bliss that accompanies a woman the few days after giving birth, BEFORE her milk comes in. After your milk comes in several days later, your hormones send you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.

The midwives number one instructions after giving birth are to stay in bed for three days. Three days without ever getting out of bed except to go to the bathroom. Three days of cuddling, snuggling and smelling your baby. After that is another four days of modified bed-rest (which means you are allowed to move to the couch) for a total of seven days of lying down. I have mentioned this rule to other friends who have given birth and it saddens me when they say that they didn’t know you were supposed to stay in bed and that no one ever told them to. Or even worse is how many women brag about being up and around two days later shopping at Target with their newborn baby. There are other obvious reasons for mandatory bed-rest after delivering a baby besides smelling them – like giving your body the time it needs to heal. I think because hospitals generally discharge you after one or two days women have the misconception that they are recovered. However, these three days are not only a period of necessary healing, but also an intense and critical component of the human existence called bonding. What is bonding? It is easier to describe what promotes it and what hinders it.

You cannot begin a conversation about bonding without first bringing up skin to skin. Skin to skin has been discovered to be such a vital component to the success of a mother and her baby that some hospitals have started campaigns promoting it. Signs all over one maternity ward I toured  read, “It’s my birthday, give me a hug.” The most simple explanation for bonding is that since human babies are the only species entirely dependent on maternal care, there is a system hardwired into us that powers on after birth, making even the most non-maternal woman a warm, caring, self-sacrificing entity we call – a mom. Scientists have discovered that in the first hour or two after birth, there is a hormonal surge of oxytocin. This hormone is referred to as the love hormone, which builds up during the end of pregnancy in anticipation for a huge release after birth.  Oxytocin levels also increase during love making and even during simple care taking tasks like rocking and diapering a baby. When the mother is in an environment where she can immediately hold her baby after birth skin to skin, the bonding process can begin during a state of maternal hormonal bliss, when her oxytocin levels are at their absolute highest. This also causes her to develop keen maternal instincts, like hearing her baby cry through two closed doors when the baby monitor was accidentally shut off, or while taking a shower (my husband is in awe of this still).

Bonding is just one of several physiological reactions that happen after a woman gives birth and holds her baby in her arms for the first time. If allowed to be placed immediately on the mothers shirtless chest, the baby, who comes from a sterile womb, is instantly colonized with the mother’s bacteria (as opposed to whatever they could be lied down on in a hospital.) Their heart rate, blood sugar and temperature are all regulated, giving the newborn the help it needs to adjust to life outside the womb. If the mother is then encouraged to nurse her baby for the first time within this golden hour, oxytocin levels soar even higher. The higher the levels, the more “maternal” a woman becomes, even making her able to discern the smell of her baby over another. This love hormone is also transferred to the infant through the milk, making it sleepy, calm and comforted. The first activity the midwives prescribe after giving birth is for the mom and baby to take a nice long nap together. This is easily accomplished after the first, long nursing session. Or for some of us, nursing “attempt.”

A good friend of mine once told me that nursing was the best part of motherhood. I have thought about this simple statement a lot and see why it is so true. The best memories I have of my babies are of rocking them in our rocking chair and nursing them, watching them drift off into a dreamy, milky, oxytocin induced sleep. I would not only be rocking and nursing but also stroking their bald, fuzzy heads and of course, smelling them. After they slipped off my breast completely milk drunk, I would stare at their sweet, sweet dreaming face. My eyes would well up with a few tears every time and I cherished that moment, watching them sleep, knowing they wouldn’t be babies forever. I couldn’t imagine motherhood without the deep level of love that I have experienced with the help of my maternal hormones.

There are many obstacles that can come in the way of uniting a mom and baby for the first time after birth. In my case, my placenta refused to come out until nearly two hours later, but some have even worse complications. I think it goes without saying that the most common interference is a C-section. If mom and baby can’t be together there are other “surrogate” options like dad or an adoptive parent.

The thing about bonding is that it is just as important to promote it in the “golden hour” as it is to continue bonding activities for as long as you can still carry your baby in your arms. Even unintentionally the simple acts of feeding and caring for your baby will raise your oxytocin levels. We need to bond and care for our babies continuously in order to get through those sleepless nights that can bring even a Buddhist monk to their breaking point. It is bonding that makes us care about caring for our children.

0 Comment

Our Planned Home Birth

Posted - 17 April, 2013

Whenever someone asks where my children were born I always answer that it was a planned home birth. Mostly this question comes up when filling out forms in the doctor’s office. Next to number of live births is where child was born. I wonder what other parents answer. Do they say, the hospital or Sharp Hospital? Only 4% of births in America are done outside of hospitals, at home – planned. At the time of my first pregnancy I had only known two other moms who had home births. One turned out great and the other transferred to the hospital but those 50/50 odds never deterred me. I was fearless. The midwives reassured me that a home birth is successful over 80% of the time, without any complications. For me the thought of doctors and medical procedures was far scarier than birthing a baby, which is something my body was made to do.

A series of life events led me to my decision to have my kids naturally at home.

1. One of my earliest memories is when I was in kindergarten and our class was sent to the library to find a book about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I asked the librarian what kind of doctor delivers babies. She went to the dictionary and helped me look up “obstetrician.” Later I found out that blood makes me faint. It all worked out in the end though because now I have a career writing about all things baby related.

2. My mom had three kids all via cesarean section. Later in her life she had to deal with some major health issues because of this. When I was 18 and had just gone off to college she ended up in the hospital with a fibroid tumor the size of a grapefruit. When the surgeon went in to remove the tumor he found that her uterus was covered with so much scar tissue (from being cut into three times) that he had to remove it entirely. It was then discovered that her uterus was fused to her bladder with even more scar tissue and it took 30 minutes to pry them apart. Avoiding a c-section became my top priority during my pregnancy.

3. All during college I was a nanny for a family of 5 kids. Their last 3 were planned home births. I had the honor and privilege of being there for the birth of their fifth baby. I was only 19 at the time and had no idea how this would end up affecting me on a really deep level until I was pregnant years later. Here is a recap of that experience. I got a call at 10:00 am on a Saturday from the mom I nanny for. She said, “Something definitely feels different today. You can come over now.” I came to keep an eye on the other kids while she did her magic with a team of five people including: a lay midwife, nurse midwife, doula, hypno birth coach and husband. Dad was working in his home office almost the entire time and literally showed up in the last ten minutes to see the kid pop out and cut the cord. While the other kids and grandparents were watching a movie in the other room I could not help but sneak a peak. This is what I saw – mom lying on her side in bed completely calm looking at her hypno birth coaches finger while enduring a contraction. Two hours after I arrived I hear a baby crying. Dad brings him out for the rest of us to see, holding him up like a trophy, the poor white thing blinded by the light of day. Amazing. She made it look easy.

4. The documentary “The Business of Being Born” as well as Sarah Buckley’s book “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” were my doctrines when I was pregnant. They gave me the knowledge and understanding of exactly what my body would be going through, which gave me courage and strength to labor without medication. I don’t think I could have done it without them.

And now for my planed home birth story.
For some this life event can bring tears of joy, jubilant elation and even screams of excitement. For others it can be more of an out of body experience seeing a pink or blue or even alien white, slimy, cone headed being like our daughter was. I never cried or fussed like I thought I would the first time I held her. I remember feeling calm and collected and in awe of what I had just accomplished. I felt extremely present and in the moment. Sarah Buckley writes in her book, “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” that natural childbirth is the equivalent of meditating for seven years. I can definitely see how closing my eyes and focusing on my breath for that twelve hours of labor changed who I am as a person on a very deep level.

Our daughter was born just after noon on a Monday after laboring through the night. It went by like a dream and I had no concept of time. She had the most vernix the midwives had ever seen on a nearly full term baby in the past ten collective years of delivering babies. My husband guided her up from out of the water (while the midwife guided his hands because he was afraid of “hurting” the baby.)  The picture of those four strong hands carefully bringing her out from under me and onto my chest stays with me forever. I held her close to me and said “Hi.” I waited for her to squirm around and nuzzle her face until she found my nipple and started nursing like I had seen on a YouTube video of “infant led latching after birth.” She calmly looked around. She never cried and her apgar scores were all nines. The midwives asked if she could go to dad so they could “check her out.” Then I realized that there was still a cord dangling out of me. I wouldn’t hold her again until nearly two hours later when my placenta finally decided to come out. “Now I can nurse my baby!” I thought. She had spent over an hour sucking on dads little finger, patiently awaiting the real thing. The sweetest first pictures we have of her are sucking his pinky lying skin to skin on his hairy chest. Once the nursing finally began, so did the mutilation of my nipples. After only three days we started referring to them as being completely annihilated. It took nearly fourteen days before we discovered that she was tongue-tied.

So that was my home birth. Lizzy, as we now call her, went from a warm, dark, watery womb to a bright, warm, watery pool to mommy’s soft, squishy tummy to daddy’s warm, hairy, shirtless chest. Dad even got to hold her while the midwives did their newborn exam (most of it.) Then back to mommy in a warm cozy bed where she began her destruction of my breast. Aside from the placenta hold up it was a nearly perfect supervised and carefully planned, home birth. Even though Lizzy didn’t cooperate with the self initiated latching that could have helped my uterus contract and eject the placenta easily, we still had a good birth experience. Most importantly, our daughter had a good first experience entering into this world, starting with her very first moments.

01 Comment