How to Heal from a Traumatic Birth & Bond with Your Baby

Bonding issues are so common but so rarely discussed in our society, there is such a stigma attached to a new mother who isn’t head over heels in love with her newborn. Commonly these feelings appear after a traumatic birth experience and it is with this in mind that I am writing this post. The following are a list of things that have helped some of the parents I have worked with, as well as myself – I have no scientific evidence to share here – only anecdote, but I hope it will help:

Talk, talk, talk……and then talk some more

Nobody wanted to listen to me, I was met with so many “but at least he’s here safely, that’s all that matters” – I felt so selfish wanting to yell “no – it’s not all that matters, what about me?”, so I never said it, but I’ve encouraged many to say the same to me. Birth matters. It is not “just one day in your life”, it will shape your personality forever more, if it goes well it can change your life, if it goes bad it can drag you down for months and even years. Find somebody you can talk to – preferably in person such as a birth afterthoughts counsellor, if not over the telephone rather than the internet, though if the internet is the only option go for it! at first it will hurt – a lot, you’ll cry, you’ll feel sad, you’ll feel angry, you may even feel worse for talking about it, but after a while  I promise it will get easier and will really begin to help. It’s also *really* important to talk to your partner about the birth, he may be harbouring feelings preventing him from bonding  too!

 

Write out your birth story

We tend to only write our birth stories if they are positive, but it’s so much more important to write out a negative one, you don’t have to show it to anyone, sometimes it can be hugely cathartic to write it out then tear it up  – even burn it.

 

Re-create your perfect birth (aka re-birthing)

I find this works really well for homebirth transfers and emergency C-Sections. For instance I once helped a couple who had planned a home waterbirth which resulted in an emergency section to create positive memories and enjoy the environment they so wanted. A week after the birth we set up the birthing room again, it was evening, dim light, we turned up the heating so it was snugly warm, got out the birth pool and filled it with warm water. We burned lavender and clary sage oil, we lit candles, we drank wine, we ate fruit, we played soft music. The mother entered the pool – closed her eyes and floated for a while whilst dad undressed the baby. The baby was then gently lowered on the mum’s tummy (head out of the water!) and then we sat back – quiet and a beautiful scene unfolded. The baby breastcrawled up and attached onto mum’s breast (hence why this is a technique often recommended for latching problems after C-Sections) and as she did the mum sobbed and sobbed and sobbed – a week’s worth of tears. They stayed there for an hour before retreating to bed together – skin to skin – for the night. It will never replace the birth she lost and so wanted but now she has good memories too.

 

Skin to skin

This one naturally goes without saying – or does it?

In my BabyCalm classes I always start off with asking the mums to undress their babies, hold them tight and close their eyes – then to feel every last inch of their baby, knowing them through their touch. I remember the most profound effect I witnessed – a mum with a four week old, her second child, who started crying within a minute of doing this. She had been so rushed with her toddler and putting the baby in a sling to get out and about, putting the baby down so the toddler didn’t get jealous and so on she hadn’t had time to get to know her newborn – even though she had a “perfect” homebirth. She said this was the first time she had really touched her. Co-bathing is a great time for skin to skin as is co-sleeping, but don’t just stop there, snuggle up on the sofa topless with a blanket with your baby stripped down to their nappy and cuddle. I think this is really important for bottle feeding mums, breastfeeding naturally affords skin to skin contact many times per day but I don’t know of any bottle feeding mum who undoes her shirt and snuggles her baby skin to skin whilst giving her a bottle, definitely worth trying!

 

Babywearing and Co-Sleeping

Again these go without saying, as much contact as possible with your baby as often as possible. I shall say no more here as it is so obvious!

 

No toiletries

All mammals rely strongly on scent to bond with their offspring, we are the only mammals who strip our young of their natural scent and replace it with artificial smells (even if those smells are natural in origin – such as lavender). Don’t underestimate the importance of your baby’s natural scent – leave the shampoo, baby wash, baby soap, powder, moisturiser and baby wipes and stick to plain water as much as possible – as little as possible, particularly on the head, the place where mothers subconsciously nuzzle and sniff many times per day.

 

NLP/ Hypnosis/Visualisation/ Affirmations

Techniques which can be used to great effect to help encourage bonding and recovery from a difficult birth. I particularly favour an NLP technique called “The Swish”:

http://www.nlp-now.co.uk/nlp_swish.htm

but something so simple as visualising feelings of love, happiness  and confidence building when with your baby or repeating statements such as “each day I feel my confidence growing and my love for my baby building” (yes you do feel stupid at first!) can have profound effects. You can visit a hypnotherapist or for a fraction of the cost you can download an audio MP3 such as this one:

http://www.hypnoticworld.com/downloads/baby_bonding.php

 

Time

They say time is the greatest healer, don’t rush yourself, it will only make you feel more guilty – you’ve proved what a great mum you are by recognising the issue and wanting to change and  a change will happen,  but it might not be instant, particularly if you are  first having to go through a grief process.

Sarah

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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