5 Reasons Why Your Birth Can Affect Your Baby and Your Parenting

When I meet a new mum, dad and baby  for the first time at a consultation for colic and sleep I always start with the same question:

“tell me about your birth”

Mostly it’s met with confusion, wrinkled eyebrows and exchanged curious looks, very often they ask me “why?” straight back. After all they haven’t come to see me to talk about their birth, they’re here to see me to work out why their baby cries so much. To me though the two are so inextricably linked it is impossible to understand the issues they are having with their newborn unless we go back to the beginning (sometimes the cause goes even further back – I’m very aware of that!). So, here’s why I ask that question and why I believe that any professional working with new parents MUST consider the baby’s birth in order to really help:

1) The birth can have lasting physical consequences for the baby

If a baby is born by C-Section, ventouse or forceps my ears always prick up immediately, especially if the labour has been long and involved malpresentation. I work very closely with a local chiropractor who specialises in working with new babies and over the years I have learnt an awful lot from her. Imagine if your head had been crooked at an unusual angle for several weeks, then imagine that somebody was pushing your head into that position even harder for a whole day, you’d have a headache and neck ache right? I have seen babies in obvious discomfort, several with torticollis unable to turn their head – aside from the discomfort this can also have an effect on feeding – several mums have said “he just won’t feed from that side and cries whenever we try” – they hadn’t considered it might be painful for their baby to turn their head to do so. Also when you start delving into the world of cranial nerves even more the whole issue becomes more complex. During labour the baby’s cranial bones move and overlap (think of a cone headed newborn!), this is normal and the bones usually return to their normal position over a few days after the birth, mostly via the process of the baby sucking (and the movement of the upper and lower jaw) which stimulates the base of the skull via the palate. Sometimes however things don’t return to normal and often abnormal skull compression becomes noticeable via the baby’s feeding habits and need to suck much more than usual. If the baby’s vagus nerve (the nerve directly linked to digestion) is compressed this can also have noticeable effects on a baby’s digestive system causing pain. All of this is more likely to happen if the labour is long, the baby is malpresented (I often notice babies who laid in an asynclitic presentation during labour are more fussy) or is born via emergency section, forceps or ventouse. Visiting a good chiropractor or cranial osteopath can make a profound difference for some new parents and babies. I believe in this so passionately I believe it should be available on the NHS, after all we check a baby’s hearing after birth – why not his skull and spine?

2) The birth can have lasting physical consequences for the mother.

Again, in my utopian world  all new mothers would be visited by a chiropractor or osteopath. Having suffered from hideous SPD (now known as PGP) during pregnancies 1 and 2 it wasn’t until no.3 I discovered that – hey pregnancy didn’t have to hurt! I was literally  changed woman. I was lucky in that I only suffered during pregnancy, but I have known plenty who continued to suffer after the birth, this affected their posture, but standing and seated and the constant discomfort slowly begins to erode into the psyche, along with the discomfort experienced whilst breastfeeding, often meaning babies are latched poorly – and we all know where that leads. It’s not just the pelvis and spine that matter though. I have met too many women suffering with perineal trauma, poorly stitched episiotomies and the like which not only cause great physical discomfort, but emotional too – which naturally has a knock on effect long after the event.

3) The birth can have lasting psychological consequences for the baby

Even those that have gone supposedly “well” or have been “natural”. The two big culprits to look out for here are the use of exogenous oxytocin (aka syntocinon/pitocin depending on where you’re reading from!) and what happened immediately after birth. Let’s start with the  artificial oxytocin. It’s impossible to talk about this without mentioning Michel Odent. In his article “If I were the baby: questioning the widespread use of synthetic oxytocin” Michel discusses the blood flow from mother to baby via the placenta and states the permeability is higher in the mother-foetal direction than vice versa (i.e: blood travels from the mum to baby via the placenta easily – so too therefore does whatever substance is travelling in the mother’s blood), Michel’s concern is the “oxytocin-induced desensitization of the oxytocin receptors”. “In other words, it is probable that, at a quasi-global level, we routinely interfere with the development of the oxytocin system of human beings at a critical phase for gene-environment interaction”. What does this mean in reality? well we know that when artificial oxytocin is put into the maternal blood stream during labour so to it enters the babies and can have profound and lasting consequences on the neurophysiology of the baby for the rest of their life.

Michel goes on to say “we now have scientific evidence that explains how the capacity to love develops through a complex interaction of hormones, hormones that are secreted during many experiences of love and close human interaction including sexual intercourse and conception, birth, lactation, and even sharing a meal with loved ones. The role of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” is particularly important. Natural oxytocin delivered by human touch, but not synthetic oxytocin delivered by an intravenous drip, has important effects on many organs in the body, including the brain. “  Those important effects, Odent theorises, can cause the baby to grow with damaged oxytocin receptors which he links to raising levels of autism, anxiety, stress and disturbed ”self loving” – including higher levels of anorexia, drug and alcohol dependency.

Not to mention on another level how traumatising birth is for babies – and here I am not implying birth needs to be traumatic for babies, when I trained in baby massage with Peter Walker he said to us “what if the process of birth was the very first massage we receive? what if birth is a pleasurable experience for the baby?” this really made me think – it’s what they are born into that is more traumatic – bright lights, rough handling, scratchy towels, cold instruments, latex gloves, cord clamps, silly hats and scratch mits, injections or bitter tasting oral drops. It’s no wonder babies cry when born!

I was intrigued to learn of the importance of amniotic fluid in calming babies. When you think of this more deeply it’s kind of obvious – a baby spends 9mths in amniotic fluid – it is what you might  call “a constant”, naturally then the scent of the fluid on their skin (and that of their mother) after birth will be calming to them, reminding them of home you might say – yet, what do we do? we wipe it off, dry them and wrap them up in a rough towel – despite the fact there is sound scientific evidence to suggest this is the wrong thing to do – babies whose amniotic fluid is not wiped off after birth cry significantly  less (ref: H. Varendi et al., “Soothing effect of amniotic fluid smell in newborn infants,” Early Hum Dev (Estonia) 51, no. 1 (Apr 1998): 47-55) – and this is without even discussing skin to skin to contact (which we’ll do below).

4) The birth can have lasting psychological consequences for the mother.

On a continuation of the above theme. We know that the blood brain barrier prevents artificial oxytocin from entering the brain – this may not seem important when you are told that you need an oxytocin drip to “speed up” or even start your labour – or when you are told it’s best you have an injection to deliver your placenta and prevent blood loss (all of which contain synthesised oxytocin) – but when you understand that this results in a direct lack of oxytocin circulating the maternal brain we begin to realise quite what catastrophic effects the usage off these supposedly “safe” chemicals can have upon the bonding of mother and child and the initiation (and even long term succcess)  of breastfeeding. We know oxytocin is the hormone of love and if we are depriving mothers of this in their brain it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out how we may be  damaging the love process between mother and baby. So often I work with new mothers ashamed to admit that they still dont know if they really love their babies or that it took them a long time, that there was no instant “rush of love”. I have experienced it both ways. My first two births were syntocinontastic, the first one I had “failed to progress” (or they had failed to wait – you decide!) and thus it was deemed my failure of a body couldn’t get my baby out without a drip to ramp up my contractions, I was then injected with syntometrine against my consent (i.e: I wasn’t even asked for consent – “I’m just giving you the injection for the placenta now dear” – jab and in it went before I had a chance to say anything) – my second birth was an induction for pre-eclampsia and I was told I HAD to have syntometrine because I was ill/had been induced (yes I know – I was young and naive, I know a lot more know and only wish I could turn back the clock!). Did I get that instant rush of love with those babies? Was breastfeeding easy? No. My last two babies were dramatically different though. My third son arrived at home, in a birth pool, in my dimly lit living room with an incredibly respectful midwife who didn’t touch us at all. Nobody, but me, laid hands on him until he was 3 days old. Oh my goodness now I knew what they meant by “love at first sight”. within 30 minutes of his birth (still in my arms in the pool) I would have died for  him – it was as if I was a bubble of golden, warm love. I have never felt so high, drugged or drunk in my life. THIS is how it should be and this was how it was for my last baby too, a birth very similar to my third.  The love was chemical and instant. I look at photos of my first two births and I can see shadows of the pain and indignity I had suffered, the trauma I had endured and the sheer relief it was over. Those same feelings of inadequacy, grief and confusion that lasted for years after the event. Is it any wonder why so many new mothers find it hard to bond with their baby? hard to interpret their cries? hard to hear their instinct? we strip so many mothers of the chemical euphoria they should experience and pay no attention to the after effects. If you can identify check out THIS article for some tips to help you to recover. You could also get in touch with Birth Crisis who are fantastic.

5)  The birth can have lasting psychological consequences for the father.

All too often we forget about the dads, but birth can be – and is – an immensely emotional event for the father, both positively and negatively. Nobody seems to care about the dads though, nobody holds their hand and tells them they are doing well, nobody hugs them and listens to their worries or tells them “it’s OK” to cry. We expect them to be a tower of strength and support – yet where is their support? the sooner we catch onto this the better. As a doula I now firmly believe my role is 10% supporting the mum (if birthing women are left alone they pretty much don’t need help from me or anyone else) and 90% support the dad, it’s funny but a lot of expectant fathers are reluctant when it  comes to the idea of employing a doula, the mothers are  often much, much keener and the dads worry that they will feel left out. In reality it couldn’t be further from the truth and research indicates at  births with a doula present the partner is more supportive and more involved. Anyway, I’m starting to digress, my point here is that when birth goes well it can be  an amazing high for the dad too – it can help him bond with his baby almost as instantly as the mum, but when it goes bad……….oh when it goes bad….I have been at a couple of ventouse births and episiotomies now, sitting at “the business end” and sometimes the visions and noises still haunt me – how must it feel to see your partner in distress – being cut or having a baby pulled out of her with great force? and then being sent home, alone, 2 hours later if your baby was born outside of visiting hours, yet we don’t seem to understand how traumatic witnessing a birth such as that can be for a dad – and the impact that can have upon his transition to fatherhood. Indeed we know when dads are supportive of breastfeeding the mother is much more likely to be successful and feed for longer, the birth can have a big impact on the  dad and thus impact on the support he is able to give to his partner.

There is so much more I could write here, but I’m wary that I’m up to 2500 words already so I’ll revisit this some  other day.

What do I do with the information that is given to me about the birth from the new parents? most of the time, nothing (sometimes I’ll suggest a visit to a chiropractor, breastfeeding counsellor or birth afterthoughts midwife or a telephone call to the birth trauma association but rarely) – I listen and I listen some more. For that mum or dad it may be the first time somebody has listened and never underestimate the impact that feeling listened to can have on somebody’s state of mind.

Next time you meet a new mum with a colicky baby – think about asking her about her birth.

 Sarah

p.s:  Did you like this post? Want to read more similar content and receive weekly top tips, reader Q&As, hear my take on current parenting research and enter the odd competition? Then why not sign up to my new FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER and get the latest in gentle parenting delivered straight to your inbox. I promise I will never share your email with anybody else and if you don’t like what I send you can unsubcribe straight away!

Sign up to my FREE weekly newsletter

The Fourth Trimester – AKA Why Your Newborn Baby is Only Happy in Your Arms

“My baby is only happy in my arms, the minute I put her down she cries”

“He sleeps really well but only when he’s laying on my chest, he hates his moses basket”

“She cries every time we lay her on her play mat”

“He hates going in his pram, he cries the second we put him in it”.

If I had a pound every time I heard  these from a new parent I’d be a very rich lady by now! What amazes me though is that society in general doesn’t get it, they don’t get why so many babies need to be held by us to settle and what perplexes me even more is that we do spend so long trying to put them down! We spend more than time though, the ‘putting babies down’ industry is  worth millions, rocking cribs, battery swings, vibrating chairs, heartbeat teddies and the list goes on………………having been a first time parent who bought all four of the items listed above I am embarrased to admit now it honestly didn’t enter into my head that perhaps the answer was to *not* put my baby down and I certainly didn’t consider why these things might help. It took me a long time to understand and empathise with my baby, to see the world through his eyes so to speak.

“Empathy: the intellectual identification with 

or vicarious experiencing ofthe feelings,

 thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

To empathise with our newborns feelings we need to put ourselves in their place, to imagine experiencing their world – but which world? The world they have spent most of their life in, their ‘womb world’ or the world they are in now – our world. To fully understand we must appreciate the enormous transition they have made – a concept known to many as ‘The Fourth Trimester’ -some make the womb to world transition easily, others less so and it is this latter group in particular “the clingy babies” we can learn so much from through this concept.

“Birth suddenly disrupts this organization. During the month following birth, baby tries to regain his sense of organization and fit into life outside the womb. Birth and adaptation to postnatal life bring out the temperament of the baby, so for the first time he must do something to have his needs met. He is forced to act, to “behave.” If hungry, cold, or startled, he cries. He must make an effort to get the things he needs from his caregiving environment. If his needs are simple and he can get what he wants easily, he’s labeled an “easy baby”; if he does not adapt readily, he is labeled “difficult.”” – Dr. William Sears.

So lets quickly compare the two different ‘worlds’ your baby has lived in:

Image

Pretty different huh? On top of this the big thing to understand is that in utero the baby’s world was constant, each day was the same, the stimulation didn’t change, but now they are born each day is different – ever changing,  ever stimulating!

The concept of the fourth trimester helps us to understand the transition a newborn must make over their first few weeks earthside and once we understand we find so many ways we can help – but to me the most important facet of the fourth trimester is parental understanding and empathy, once that exists everything else will flow naturally.

Here are some common newborn calming techniques that tend to work quite well, but remember each and every baby is different, if you don’t already know, you will soon learn what your baby likes best and that’s what matters, that it is unique to *your* baby. Prescriptive ‘do this/don’t do this’ baby calming lists don’t help anybody – because they forget they are dealing with individuals – both parents and babies! Some things on this list will be inappropriate for you and your baby, some simply won’t work, some you won’t like – and that’s OK! because really it isn’t about these tips it’s about you and your baby getting to know each other!

Movement

The womb is a constantly moving space, Braxton Hicks would squeeze your baby at the end of pregnancy and each time you moves your baby was wobbled around inside. Imagine how walking upstairs feels for a baby in utero! Babies tend to love movement but so often we put them down somewhere completely still. You could try dancing, swaying from side to side, going for an exaggerated quick walk or bumpy car ride.

Skin to Skin Contact

Such a brilliant baby calmer! Being in contact with your warm, naturally (un)scented, skin is heaven for a baby, it helps to stabilise their body temperature, heart rate and stress hormones and stimulates the release of oxytocin – the love and bonding hormone – in you both. Topless cuddles, shared baths, baby massage and bedsharing are all great skin to skin experiences for your baby and you.

Bed-Sharing

Sharing a bed with your baby is an amazing way of getting more sleep for everyone, babies are generally much calmer and sleep more easily if they sleep with you in your bed, yet it is such a taboo topic and although 60% of parents will share a bed with their baby at some point it’s a subject that makes society very uncomfortable, but…it is an *amazing* baby calmer!  It’s really important that you think about how bedsharing will work and follow some important safety guidelines HERE.

Swaddling

Imagine how snug your baby was at the very end of your pregnancy inside of you – now imagine how strange it must feel to them after they have been born and have so much space around them! The absolutely best thing you can do is to envelop your baby in your arms, but for times when you don’t want to or indeed can’t then swaddling is an option. Swaddling is becoming increasingly popular, however there are important safety guidelines to be followed if you choose to swaddle your baby, if you are breastfeeding please make sure feeding is established before swaddling and take care not to miss your baby’s hunger cues if you are feeding on demand:

  •  Never swaddle over your baby’s head or near his face
  • Never swaddle your baby if he is ill or has a fever
  • Make sure your baby does not overheat and only swaddle with a breathable/thin fabric
  • Only swaddle your baby until he can roll over**
  • Always place your baby to sleep on his back
  • Do not swaddle tightly across your baby’s chest
  • Do not swaddle tightly around your baby’s hips and legs, his legs should be free to “froggy up” into a typical newborn position.
  • Lastly start to swaddle as soon as possible, do not swaddle a 3 month old baby if he has not been swaddled before.

** The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends swaddling for babies 0-14wks.

Babywearing

Wearing your baby in a sling is one of the ultimate ways to keep them calm and happy. It increases the time a baby spends in a state of “quiet alertness” – a time of contentment when they learn the most. When a baby is in utero they spend 100% of their time in physical contact with us – yet the moment they are born this is estimated to drop to only 40%! Babywearing also means 2 free hands!

Choose your sling carefully. A good sling will be easy to use and will support both yours and your baby’s spine whilst not placing any pressure on your baby’s growing hips – newborns should always be carried facing inwards with a “frog leg” pose, not a crotch dangle pose so commonly used by commercial baby carriers. Also seek to carry in an ‘in arms’ position – i.e: how your baby would be held if you were holding them! This great picture from JePorteMonBebe highlights this newborn hold position perfectly.

Babywearing is a great way for dads to bond with babies!

It is quite common for a baby to cry once placed in a sling, this does not mean that they hate the sling – it just means that you need to move, so get dancing! As with swaddling,babywearing is becoming increasingly popular, however there are important safety guidelines to be followed, the TICKS acronym below neatly sums them all up:

Image

Position

The “tiger in the tree” position below, taken from baby yoga, is often magical, stopping a crying baby in an instant!

Noise
Babies love sound, but for many not the sound you might think. For many babies a hoover is much more calming to a baby than a lullaby. A special white noise recording, such as THIS,  can be played on loop whilst your baby sleeps to help keep them calm.

Feed

If your baby is hungry nothing will calm him, so watch for his hunger cues. Feeding is always better if it is baby led, not led by a routine – whether you are breast or bottle feeding. Remember as well that your baby may not always be hungry for a full feed, they may want a quick drink, a quick snack or just some comfort sucking. Babies also find sucking the ultimate relaxation and comfort tool. Sucking helps a baby’s skull bones to return to their normal position after birth as well as providing them with comfort and security. If you are not breastfeeding you might find your baby will relax when given a dummy/pacifier.

Deep Bathing

The womb is a wet, warm place. The world as we know it is dry and cold! Sometimes a nice deep, warm bath can stop a baby’s tears in seconds – even better if mummy or daddy goes in the big bath with baby too as skin to skin contact is a wonderful baby calmer.

Outside

If all else fails many babies stop crying the minute they hit the open air – I’m not sure if this is because we are usually moving (e.g.: walking over cobbles with the buggy/ bouncing in a sling and the drone and movement of a car) or because of the change in air – but it works!

What have you found calms your newborn?

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!
sleepbook-1

Sarah

p.s: Come and chat with me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram 

Or watch my videos on YouTube

You can also sign up for my free parenting newsletter HERE.