As the wonderful Karen Strange says, ” birth was designed to work in case no one was there.”
Birth is a big package. Hormones are released at just the right moments to serve special functions, baby does things to help mama, mama does things to help baby. The team is the mother/baby. They are working together in an ancient process. The biology of birth does not assume that anyone else is required or essential to the process. Or any special equipment.
My point is not that we should give birth alone. My point is that for most births there is time to take a step back when the baby is born. To give some space to the mom/baby team. Do we need to suction every baby before placing her on mama’s chest? Do we need to clamp the cord right away? Even 2 minutes later? Do we need to give mom a shot of pitocin? Do we need to tug on the cord to get that pesky placenta out? Do we need to dry the baby vigorously with a towel? Does the baby need to cry?
Obstetrician Michel Odent warns, “Don’t wake the mother” during this stage. She is releasing an enormous hormonal cocktail and loud voices, bright lights, flurried activity, Pitocin, suturing (especially suturing!) can interrupt this release.
Here are just a few of the awesome things that happen when the baby is born:
- Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding release oxytocin which helps the uterus contract and birth the placenta.
- Babies use their vision and smell to find their way to mom’s nipple which has darkened during pregnancy (studies show babies are attracted to circles) and emits a smell similar to amniotic fluid.
- Blood vessels in mom’s chest expand causing her chest to heat up significantly so she can warm her baby.
- The pulsing cord gives the baby a final boost of oxygenated blood.
- When baby latches onto the breast, the hormones prolactin (milk-release), endorphins, and dopamine are released.
- A combination of colostrum from the breast, bacteria from the mom’s vagina, and the vernix coating the baby’s skin all work to protect the baby from harmful bacteria.
Such a beautiful interdependence. Such a beautiful start to a lifelong interdependence.
The thing I love MOST about homebirth is how this stage is honored. At the hospital, there is flurry and procedure. I understand that–it is a medical environment. At home, there is an unquestioned acceptance of the connected purpose of mom and baby. Even in emergencies, midwives often keep mom and baby together.
When you pick your birthplace, be mindful of this stage of birth as well. You might talk to your doctor or midwife about how you can keep the first hour following birth low-key and hands-off. Ask your doula how she can help guard the space around you.