The healthy birth practices we support lead to mothers and babies having the safest, healthiest, most satisfying births possible. This advocacy is now more important than ever, as evidence supporting the theory that babies are conscious at birth continues to grow. We are pleased to have Dr. Carrie Contey, a prenatal and perinatal specialist, join us to discuss optimizing your birth environment for the benefit of both you and your baby.
Thanks to the pioneers of prenatal and perinatal psychology, we are gaining awareness of how birth profoundly imprints itself on our lifelong health and behavior. In one landmark study, children under hypnosis were able to recall the very minuet details of their birth experiences. These stories were matched to the reports given by their mothers, who were also under hypnosis. Babies are undoubtedly conscious — physically, mentally and emotionally — at birth. This fascinating discovery confirms that facilitating a better birthing experience for all mothers and newborns is absolutely essential.
Physically, an emerging newborn is well aware of his or her environment during birth, as most senses have developed weeks prior. During birth, a child is capable of hearing, touching, tasting and smelling everything around him or her. So, how can we care for baby’s senses at birth?
Seeing: Because a baby’s eyes are so sensitive and used to seeing light filtered through mother’s belly, the lights should be dimmed. We must allow baby’s eyes to adjust to the outside world slowly and without shock.
Hearing: Likewise, a baby is used to hearing sounds that are muffled by flesh and fluid, so speech should be soft and noises should be kept to a minimum.
Tasting: If possible, nothing should be placed in the newborn’s mouth before he or she has a chance to breastfeed. Babies are prepared for and expecting to taste their mother’s breast milk soon after birth. Imposing bottles or syringes on them during the perinatal period is invasive and detrimental to bonding.
Smelling: Babies are precisely sensitive to smells. The birth environment, especially in a hospital setting, can be overwhelming to the olfactory system. We must be mindful of the potency of all natural and non-natural agents used around baby during birth.
Touching: Through touch, we communicate love, fear, tenderness, violence, confidence and ineptitude. Within seconds after birth, mother’s hands should be the hands that welcome her children, and reassure them that they made it, and they are safe and loved. Anyone else who has contact with the baby should use respectful, loving touch when handling the newborn.
Mental & Emotional Consciousness
More and more parents are talking to, playing music for, and bonding with their unborn babies. If babies can learn in utero, one could easily infer that they are also learning during birth. Babies are not only affected by the words said to them during birth, but the emotions surrounding the event, as well. Creating a powerful and positive birth setting is key to bringing baby into this world peacefully. So, how can we foster baby’s mental and emotional health at birth?
Through re-birthing and other therapeutic techniques that allow people to re-experience their births, we know that birth is often scary, stressful and painful for the newborn. Addressing the baby and telling him or her what is happening — to both baby and mother — during the birth is key, and especially crucial during any invasive procedures. Verbally reassuring babies that they are safe and supported during their journey can alleviate some of the fear they might experience.
Leaving the womb is a profound transition, and can be disorienting and shocking to the system. Once the baby is born, everyone in attendance must be thoughtful of how they place their attention on the baby. The birthing environment should be filled with love, joy and reverence for the newborn child.
Bonding With Baby
Upon delivery — and before the child is taken away from the mother for bathing, weighing and other interventions — baby should be placed naked on the mother’s abdomen. In that position, the child can smell her smell, feel her warmth and hear her voice. Once again, they are together, yet seeing each other for the first time. Shortly after birth, the child enters a quiet alert state. During this time, the newborn is very still and often molded to the mother’s abdomen — but able to see, hear and respond to his or her new environment. Both newborn and mom are instinctually prepared for and expecting this time to bond — face-to-face, skin-to-skin and mouth-to-breast — immediately after birth and for the next several months. This initial bonding period is crucial for a mutually healthy and fulfilling birth experience.
No longer can society afford to ignore the consciousness of babies at birth, and the detrimental effects caused by many current methods of birthing. It’s important that anyone present at a birth — mothers, birth support persons and care providers — honor and respect the birthing process, and yield to the innate wisdom of the newborn.
Carrie Contey, M.Ed., M.A., PhD, received her doctorate from Santa Barbara Graduate Institute in clinical psychology, with a specialty in prenatal and perinatal psychology. She has been passionate about birth, babies and parenthood since she was a child herself, and has dedicated her adult life to pursuing the academic study and hands-on art of early parenthood and optimal human development. Carrie is a nationally-recognized early parenting coach, consultant, speaker and educator. She is also the co-founder of the Slow Family Living Movement, and has served on the board of directors of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH). She lives, works and plays in Austin, Texas. To learn more about Carrie Contey, please visit her Web site.