· Pitocin & pain medications
Pitocin is often used to either induce or augment labor. While this drug is meant to mimic oxytocin- the hormone produced naturally by the body that triggers labor contractions, feelings of love and bonding, and the release of breastmilk during nursing- it can actually hinder the body’s natural release of oxytocin. This means that after labor, the Pitocin that remains in both mother and baby’s systems and can prevent their bodies from releasing the oxytocin that helps facilitate bonding. Pain medications such as an epidural can also have the same effect on oxytocin production after birth.
When I gave birth to my first son (the one I mentioned in my story above), I had a medicated birth that included both an epidural and Pitocin. When I had my second son, I had a drug-free water birth an experienced firsthand the major difference in bonding that going without medication can have. Now, does this mean that if you have a medicated birth that you will have trouble bonding with your baby or that if you do not have medication that you will have no issues at all? Of course not. Anyone can have a hard time bonding in the beginning and if you do it does not mean that it’s your fault or that you did anything wrong.
· A cesarean birth
Not only can the medications used for a cesarean affect bonding but often times mothers who undergo a cesarean are not given the same opportunity to hold their babies immediately after birth. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, their babies may be briefly shown to them only to be whisked away quickly for examination. These moms may have to wait a long time before being able to hold their baby in the recovery room. Even after these moms are able to hold their babies, often times they are very sore from surgery which can make holding and feeding their baby uncomfortable.
· A baby who requires special care in the NICU
When babies are required to stay in the NICU, depending on the circumstances, parents may not be able to spend as much time with their babies and may be limited in the amount of time they are actually able to hold and touch them.
So what are some ways to help facilitate bonding post-birth?
1. Skin-to skin contact
Studies have proven that when mothers and babies are placed skin-to skin together, amazing things happen. Not only is oxytocin released in both mother and baby which promotes bonding, but babies feel and smell their mother’s skin and have better regulated heart rates and body temperatures. When possible, immediate, uninterrupted skin-to-skin in the immediate postpartum period is key in establishing early bonding between mother and baby. This means having your baby placed immediately on your chest after they are born and requesting that all routine procedures to be delayed for at the first hour after birth.
As I mentioned above, I bonded with my second son very quickly. But that doesn’t mean that there still wasn’t some element of mystery when I first laid eyes on him. First off, he looked nothing like my oldest when he was born. I always pictured him looking similar with lots of long dark hair and a heart shaped little face. Instead he was completely bald with a longer face than my first had. Unlike with my first though, this sense of mystery I had faded almost immediately. When I had my first son, while he was immediately placed on my chest after he was born, he was taken away to the warmer soon after because his breathing wasn’t as good as it should have been. He was away from me for probably 10 minutes, but it felt like forever. In addition, soon after I nursed him for the first time, he was examined by the nurses and then passed around to many family members to hold. Once I had him back and everyone left, I was exhausted and soon put him beside me in the basinet and fell asleep. With my second son, he was taken away from me for about one minute while I climbed out of the birthing tub and then was immediately given back to me. After that I held him and fed him uninterrupted for another hour and a half, after which he was then examined by the nurses. He was then introduced to only a small group of family members before I was once again left alone to bond with him. Instead of immediately putting him in the basinet to sleep though I pretty much did not put him down until I left the hospital two days later. I didn’t want to put him down. Even after we were back home I continued to wear him in wrap style carrier a good portion of every day. It was this constant physical contact that I know created a deep bond almost immediately.
But what if you have a cesarean? Can you still have immediate skin-to-skin with your baby? How can you make later skin-to-skin contact easier and more comfortable? Some hospitals are coming around to the idea of letting moms have immediate skin-to-skin contact with their babies while they are still in the O.R. being repaired (provided of course that the baby is in good health and not in need of medical attention). Sometimes mothers are able to hold their baby in place on their chest themselves and other times they need assistance from their partner or a nurse. Having this option available to women can greatly impact their birth experience in a positive way and help facilitate early bonding between her and baby. However, mothers are rarely ever offered this option and usually need to request it and some doctors are not always as supportive of this request as they should be. Once in recovery, ask your nurse to help show you ways you can comfortably hold your baby skin-to-skin. If you cannot have your baby directly on you comfortably, try lying side by side with your baby instead.
2. Rooming –in
Most hospitals have a come a long way with this one. There was once a time when mothers weren’t even allowed to have their babies in their rooms if they were sleeping. Nowadays mothers are encouraged to room-in with their babies unless they request otherwise. This can greatly affect your bonding. After all, your baby just went from living in a cozy water bed within you to now being in this very unfamiliar environment. Being within close range of you will help both of you feel connected and make breastfeeding on-demand much easier and smoother (which also promotes bonding!).
Continuing to room-in at night when you are back home can also help continue this evening bonding time. When I had my first son, this is something that I once again did not do and wish I would have. I was a new mom, still learning the ropes and I listened to a lot of the advice I received from friends who told me to start putting my son in his own room at night immediately instead of having him in our room. When I had my second son, I listened to what my instincts told me and kept him side-car to our bed until he was almost a year. Now, does this mean that room-sharing is the only way to do things or that it is always the best way? Again, of course not. The lesson I learned here was to listen to what your instincts tell you as a mom. I knew that room-sharing was what was best for OUR situation and that it would help me bond and be a better mom. There are plenty of moms out there however that just can’t get a good night’s sleep when they are next to their baby and do not function or parent nearly as well this way. Listen to your instincts and do what you know is right for you in your heart. For some this may help with bonding, for others it may not.
Aside from the looooong list of health benefits we know of, more wonderful hormones are released during nursing that greatly promote bonding between mother and baby.
So if you are one of the many moms out there who does not immediately connect with your baby after birth, don’t judge or criticize yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong, you are not a bad mom, and most importantly- you are not alone. Give it time and soon a strong bond will grow that will be unbreakable.
**Gina is married to her husband Jeff & the mother to her two sons Xander & Parker who are her world. She is extremely passionate about pregnancy & childbirth and absolutely loves what she does. She is a Certified Birth Doula (CBD).