A Good Start
(adapted from the first hour following birth: Don't wake the mother! by Micheal Odent)
"The hour following birth is undoubtedly one of the most critical phases in the life of human beings. It is not by chance that all human groups have routinely disturbed the physiological processes in this short period of time, via beliefs and rituals. Our cultural milieus are, to a great extent, shaped at the very beginning of the mother-newborn interactions."
The first hour following birth may be looked at from many kinds of perspectives. They are all important aspects as we consider ways to make the best start for the motherbaby.
Baby needs to breath. As the transition from womb to world happens, baby moves from fetal circulation through the placenta to newborn circulation through the lungs. It can take a few minutes for this transition to happen. This time is meant for the mother and baby to reconnect.
The hormones in the mother keep on working. Oxytocin is at an all time high at the moment of birth. It helps to contract the uterus and helps to get the milk ejection reflex going. We can encourage oxytocin to remain high at birth by keeping the birth space warm. Have baby skin to skin with mom immediately so all they must do is gaze into each others eye. By allowing this to happen prolactin, which is called the "mothering hormone", increases milk production. The mother and baby both release endorphins at birth which cause a feeling of well being. The hormones of adrenaline, which during labour should be suppressed are released in the last few contractions of pushing. This causes mom to be alert and have more energy in order to protect her baby and causes the baby to adapt to his new environment and be alert.
Attachment begins at birth. There is a short and crucial period immediately after birth that will never be repeated. This is the moment that a mother looks and then reaches for her baby. She begins to touch, and stroke and the birth gaze happens when baby and mother look into each others eyes. Often this moment is disturbed due to various interventions that have happened during the birth.
The baby will find the breast. Lactation begins at birth. A baby can find the breast and the mother will instinctively know how to hold her baby. By given them time and space they can take this time to figure it out.
The baby can adapt to his/her new environment. A baby in the womb receives nutrients from the cord. After birth that supply is discontinued, and the remarkable newborn can adapt to the change.
The work of seeding the microbiome begins at birth. At birth baby has moved from a relatively germ-free environment. In the first hour there are millions of germs covering her mucous membranes. The baby's body is inundated with whatever is in the environment she is in and from whoever is touching her. The mother and baby share the same antibodies which is why it is important for baby to be skin to skin immediately. Colostrum can help establish an ideal gut flora. This will impact the baby for a lifetime.
Warming up. In the womb that baby is kept at a constant and perfect temperature. At birth, the baby is thrust into a whole new environment. Being skin to skin helps baby adapt to the new temperatures as their thermoregulation takes time to mature.
What would your baby like in that first hour?
Which way up? Baby's have to adapt to gravity. during the first hour they learn about equilibrium and which way is up.
Mothers come from many different cultures and backgrounds. Respecting her beliefs and honoring her ritual will help her connect with her baby, family, and community. In all cultures there are many ways that the first hour is disturbed. It may be to cut the cord immediately, bathing, rubbing, swaddling, and even not feeding colostrum.
Obstetrical management can be very invasive in the first moments of life. In our culture the question for obstetrics is often "how can we manage the third stage?" There are many people now who are trying to encourage more study of the negative effects of labour management on moms and babies.
The midwifery approach can help the mother and baby have a gentle start. Authentic midwives work to ensure that the birth is encouraged to be as least disturbed as possible. They work to promote an ideal environment for baby to be born into, protecting both the mother and baby. Across the world this form of midwifery is in jeopardy.
Politics in the birthing room. The effects of labour and birth has on the long-term health of a population is often overlooked. How a women births can have long term consequences on her, her baby, and the community. It is important to keep in mind that the world of childbirth is very much about politics, money, and power.
By learning more about all the aspects of birth hand how it can impact the mother and baby you can do your best to give your baby a good start to life.