Little girls and boys play house, cradle their stuffed animals and care for them as their parents have modeled. Most of us have imagined the day we would become parents from a very young age. We do so many things that seem to come naturally to us in life, like falling in love, and cultivating a desire to get pregnant and grow a family. It's like we just can't help it! But what about when the baby actually gets here? Even if you have cared for other children in your life, few of us have even held newborns until we hold our own. You may be asking yourself, "How will I know what to do when my baby is born?"
Humans are mammals, and as such, we have instinctual behaviors intended to promote the survival of our species. One familiar example is the sympathetic nervous system response to stress or fear referred to as "fight or flight." Hormones play a critical role in labor and childbirth as well, and I like to call them love and labor hormones. Oxytocin, the love hormone, is the hormone that causes the uterine contractions allowing the baby to be born, and subsequently initiates the release of breastmilk so mothers can feed their babies (shhh...it's also released during love-making!).
In 2015, Sarah Buckley, in conjunction with Childbirth Connection, published Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care, a groundbreaking study of the connection between hormones and mother-baby birthing and bonding. The report states, "Core hormonal physiology principles reveal profound interconnections between mothers and babies, among hormone systems, and from pregnancy through to the postpartum and newborn periods" .
MOTHERS KNOW WHAT TO DO.
I remember thinking that since I had babysat children and babies since the age of eleven that I'd do just fine as a mother. Then, I held my son for the first time. It occurred to me when I looked down at his teeny, tiny, fragile 5 pound, 13 ounce frame that I had never held a baby younger than maybe three or four months! I was terrified I'd break him!
Self-doubt is a regular part of life, especially when it comes to new experiences. Many women struggle to trust that they will know what to do in childbirth, no matter how much they may read about trusting their bodies in the process. With encouragement and a supportive environment, though, you really can let Mother Nature lead the way.
Believe it or not, you as a mother will have instinctual responses when your baby is born! Most mothers have an innate desire to reach down and touch their babies, pull them close and hold them skin-to-skin. But if you feel like you can't trust yourself or your body, there may be others around you who can help you. Surrounding yourself with supportive family members and a doula help tremendously, but have you ever thought about trusting your baby?
BABIES KNOW WHAT TO DO
The initial hours of a newborn's life are a distinct time developmentally, and there are well documented short and long-term benefits when babies are held skin-to-skin, or tummy to tummy with their mothers during this time. In fact, there are nine instinctual newborn behaviors babies demonstrate when they are allowed uninterrupted physical contact with their mothers! These observable instincts are:
The Birth Cry - The baby's lungs expand, and they cry to say hello to the world!
- Relaxation - The baby exhibits no mouth or body movements and hands are relaxed as baby snuggles in safely with the mother.
- Awakening - The baby begins to open its eyes and show small mouth, shoulder, and head movements.
- Activity - The baby shows more movement and rooting reflexes.
- Rest - The baby will rest and show little to no movement.
- Crawling - You read that right! The baby will actually begin crawling and even thrusting itself closer to the mother's breast.
- Familiarization - The baby will massage the mother's breast and nipple, lick and smell the nipple and familiarize itself with the breast.
- Suckling - The baby will self-attach to the breast and begin breastfeeding!
- Sleep - Once the baby has nursed, he or she will snuggle into mom and fall right asleep!
It can take up to an hour to an hour and a half for these steps to occur for vaginal births and up to two hours or more for cesarean births and some premature births. Here's the key: it will happen. Studies have shown even babies who missed out on initial skin-to-skin contact with their mothers can exhibit these nine steps, and self-attach even days later!
SKIN-TO-SKIN: NOT JUST FOR THE LABOR ROOM
The great thing about skin-to-skin is it's not just for that immediate time after your baby is born. Keeping your baby close is the best way for you to get to know your child's cues and to learn and know what he or she needs. "To appreciate the importance of keeping mother and baby skin-to-skin for as long as possible in these first few weeks of life (not just at feedings), it might help to understand that a human baby, like any mammal, has a natural habitat: in close contact with the mother (or father). When a baby or any mammal is taken out of this natural habitat, it shows all the physiologic signs of being under significant stress" .
Beyond breastfeeding, skin-to-skin has many benefits far beyond those moments just after birth, including:
- Babies stay warmer.
- Babies stay calmer.
- Babies can hear the mother’s heartbeat.
- Babies' heart and breathing rates normalize.
- The mother may experience improved milk supply because prolactin ( the hormone that makes milk) is produced through physical stimulation.
- Any other family member can hold babies and bond via skin-to-skin .
So, even if you are really, really worried you won't know how to care for your child, you and your baby can learn together by remaining close. Skin-to-skin can help you initiate breastfeeding, but can also help you increase your confidence as a parent, and both parents can do this! Let skin-to-skin be your go-to and make a plan to spend as much time as possible in the early weeks postpartum holding your baby close so you can learn just how much you already know about caring for your baby!
Preparing for Childbirth and Parenting
Learn more about your choices in childbirth and options for newborn care in the Your Birth Experience Parent Guide and find a YBE Instructor near you to find a childbirth class that fits your needs. Contact us online if you have questions about your options during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.
 Buckley, S. J. (2015). Executive Summary of Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care. The Journal of Perinatal Education J Perinat Educ, 24(3), 145-153.
 Newman, J. (n.d.). Dr Jack Newman - nbci - Newman Breastfeeding Clinic & Institute. Retrieved March 08, 2016, from http://www.nbci.ca/index.php?option=com_content
 The Magical Hour. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2016, from http://www.magicalhour.com/aboutus.html