I was recently asked to be a part of 612 ABC Steve Austin’s parenting panel.
When asked what I wanted to speak about, I suggested discussing how birth affects parenting.
Based on what I have learned from hypnobirthing and from my own personal experience, I believe birth has a significant impact on parenting…especially on those challenging first months.
First, let’s talk hormones.
Birth chemically prepares a mother for parenting.
When you are pregnant and when you are giving birth, you are producing oxytocin.
Actually, as oxytocin is the hormone of love, you produce it even when you are not pregnant or birthing.
You know that little tingle you get when you kiss your partner? That is oxytocin.
When you are birthing, your body releases incredible amounts of oxytocin. This oxytocin stimulates your uterus to contract. And, because oxytocin crosses the blood brain barrier, it has an emotional effect… it causes you to feel euphorically, ecstatically in love.
So during birthing, and especially after your baby is born, you feel an intense love.
You immediately love your baby. Head over heels, devoted love.
You likely love everyone in the room! I know in addition to telling C that I loved him and that he was the most beautiful baby, I was also telling my OB that I loved him and I am pretty sure I professed my love for my midwife too!
The oxytocin circulating in your blood, passes to your baby and even though they can’t express it, they feel the same intense love for you that you feel for them.
Naturally occurring oxytocin ensures that a mother and a newborn are obsessed with each other. You want them close, in your arms, nestled on your chest, so you can admire their newness and perfection. In this way, birth primes a mother and a baby for successful bonding and breastfeeding…the cornerstones of those early days of parenting.
Interestingly, synthetic oxytocin, what you receive via IV in the case of induction or to increase contractions if labour has stalled, does not cross your blood brain barrier. So while it may cause your uterus to contract, it will not provide you or your baby with the same feelings of euphoric, ecstatic love that natural oxytocin does.
Epidurals also effect oxytocin. When an epidural is in place, the oxytocin peak that generally occurs when your baby enters your birth canal is inhibited because the receptors that report the stretching of the birth canal to your hypothalamus, triggering that oxytocin release, are numbed. Epidurals prevent that amazing spike in oxytocin that catalyses the final, powerful contractions and helps you and your baby fall immediately in love.
While we are designed to ensure that birth optimises parenting, I am to totally aware of the fact that not all births are natural and I am totally accepting of the fact that not all mothers want a natural birth!
I think that as long as birth, however that birth is achieved, is an empowering experience you will feel positive and confident as you begin your parenting journey.
By an empowered birth, I mean one where the parents feel involved in the birthing process, were able to make informed choices and were in control of the decisions relating to their care.
If a planned c-section is your birthing journey that is fine! Own that decision. Educate yourself and question your caregivers so that you have the best experience possible…and so you begin life as a mother feeling satisfied and with faith in your body and in your baby.
I think traumatic births, and by traumatic birth I don’t mean just an emergency caesar but any birth where the parents were not involved in the decision making process, can lead to feelings of inadequacy, indignity, confusion, grief, postnatal depression and to an unsettled baby…all of which make those challenging first few months even harder!
So how do you have a birth that optimises parenting?
Start by thinking positively about pregnancy, birth, and mothering.
Take time to think about what your want from your birthing experience.
Educate and inform yourself about how you can achieve the birth that you desire.
Take an antenatal class, enrol in pregnancy yoga, go to an ABA meeting.
Surround yourself with family, friends and caregivers who support you.
There is seriously so much I could say on this topic…how birth affect body image, how to involve fathers in pregnancy and in the birth process, how many of these issues seem to be urban issues avoided in more rural areas, how toddlers remember birth!
Do you have an opinion on birth and how it affects parenting?
And if you are interested in listening to what I had to say on the radio, here is the link.