How Birth Trauma Affects Mother and Baby Throughout Life

Mike recently shared his story in the comments on my post The Mother/Baby Attachment Gap. Physical trauma during a C-section led to emotional trauma for him and his parents that he still is dealing with.

His back was injured during the cesarean section birth. As I explained in my book, an infant's nervous system develops in part in response to the environment inside the womb, as the baby shares its mother's bloodstream, with whatever stress chemicals or calm chemicals -- including oxytocin -- are flowing through it. There's evidence that the actual birth process "sets" the emotional thermostat by influencing the reactivity of the HPA axis.

The HPA axis is the system composed of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. Some people react more quickly and more severely to stress than others. This is partly due to genetic predisposition, but also to epigenetics: genes that are "turned on" or "turned off" in response to experience and the environment.

As he entered the world, Mike learned that it's a very dangerous place: People came at him and his mother with knives.

Mike wrote: "I grew up unable to express, accept, or understand love, but I can't blame this entirely, or
perhaps even partially, on the C-section. My mother went into menopause immediately after my birth, and sex became painful for her. My father took this personally and basically lived his life away from home. Both of my parents independently told me they blamed my birth for the destruction of their marriage."

How brutal an experience to grow up like that! My mother couldn't express love and was very angry, but I wasn't forced to bear guilt for her life. I can't imagine what this would be like.

So we see that the physical and emotional trauma of Mike's birth had profound repercussions for his mother's body and emotions, as well as for his father's emotions.

Mike has spent several decades in therapy, which has gotten him to the point where he understands all this and, I hope, is beginning to take steps to heal.

I want to reiterate that we can change our bodies and our brains at any age so that we can begin to experience trust and connection. Sometimes it takes very, very small steps. Working with a therapist who specializes in dealing with birth trauma can be helpful.

Please take a look at the website of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. Some people think the idea of prenatal psychology is woo-woo. I don't. I think what science has learned about epigenetics supports their work.

Mike, I'm rooting for you to keep going on your journey.

 


Men May Be Chemically Wired to Avoid Adultery with Friends' Wives

4937497680_da787d80b4_mA University of Missouri study found that the testosterone levels of men dropped when they interacted with the wife of a close friend.

What does this mean? Testosterone is the chemical of sexual desire and aggression in both men and women. Men's T-levels tend to rise when they're around a potential sex partner -- as well as when they're around the mate of their enemy. Interesting, no?

Extrapolating, the researchers think that this mechanism may have evolved to help social cooperation in villages. According to the press release, Lead researcher Mark Flinn says, "… our findings suggest that men's minds have evolved to foster a situation where the stable pair bonds of friends are respected. … Ultimately, our findings about testosterone levels illuminate how people have evolved to form alliances. Using that biological understanding of human nature, we can look for ways to solve global problems."

The study "Hormonal Mechanisms for Regulation of Aggression in Human Coalitions" was published in the journal Human Nature. Co-authors were Davide Ponzi of MU's Division of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science and Michael Muehlenbein of Indiana University.

PHOTO: Steve Roades


College Settles with Woman Denied Comfort Guinea Pig

4257331059_a2d5f0bd2b_qKendra Velzen received $40,000 from Grand Valley State University because her school refused to let her carry her pet guinea pig everywhere on campus.  The 28-year-oldVelzen suffers from depression and uses a pacemaker. Grand Valley State let her keep her pet in the dorm, but barred it from some places including the cafeteria.

I blogged about Velzen's case when she first brought it. Those of us who depend on pets for comfort tend to be on her side; other people think it's ridiculous or even offensive to have animals around.

The story was picked up by Gawker, a site dedicated to snark. So it's not surprising that it and the comments are pretty mean.

Whether you choose to read the original news article or Gawker could say something about whether you like to be kind or not. Think about it.

 

 


Online Dating and the Oxytocin Gap

3676763773_f91c2089de_mA thought-provoking and disturbing article by Dan Slater on TheAtlantic.com posits that online dating sites make it so easy to meet new people that committed relationships fade away.

Slater, author of Love in the Age of Algorithms, uses anecdotes and interviews with the heads of online dating services to make the case that people won't bother to go through the hard work of forging a deep relationship when they know that they can just log on and date someone new.

In my book, The Chemistry of Connection, I discuss the differences between romance and love. Romance, fueled by dopamine and adrenaline, is an exciting but inevitably fading state that keeps us working to win a mate. Once we win him or her and begin having sex, oxytocin kicks in, leading us into the calmer state of committed love.

This progression was crucial in prehistoric times, when sex led to babies and a man and woman had to cooperate to keep their offspring alive. Nowadays, sex has been decoupled from procreation. And, unfortunately, our culture focuses on romance and teaches us that it's more important than simple mated love.

Slater quotes Greg Blatt,  CEO of Match.com’s parent company: "Relationships have been billed as ‘hard’ because, historically, commitment has been the goal. You could say online dating is simply changing people’s ideas about whether commitment itself is a life value."

Here's Niccolò Formai, the head of social-media marketing at Badoo, a meeting-and-dating app: "It’s exhilarating to connect with new people ... Over time you’ll expect that constant flow. People always said that the need for stability would keep commitment alive. But that thinking was based on a world in which you didn’t meet that many people."

Unfortunately, people still have a wired-in need for stability, in the form of trusting relationships. That doesn't need to come from a monogamous sexual relationship. But for most people, marriage of some kind is the primary oxytocin bond, along with children.

Our oxytocin bonds are what keep us healthy and reasonably sane. I worry about generations of singles bouncing from one unfulfilling relationship to another. How will they raise children who are capable of trust and love?

A Million First Dates

Photo by he(art)geek

 


Effects of Infant Stress May Be Lifelong

4822437519_c449a79734_qThe Natural Child Project posted an excellent article explaining how childbirth and baby care can set a baby's emotional and physiological tone.

Linda Folden Palmer, D.C, author of Baby Matters: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby, explains simply and compellingly how practices such as letting a baby cry herself to sleep or not feeding her when hungry can lead to permanently elevated cortisol and a reduced oxytocin response.

She writes,

Research on the biochemical factors influenced by child care methods demonstrates that with responsive parenting the body produces substances to help generate effective, loving, and lasting parents for an infant and infants who are strongly bonded to their parents. Over time these bonds mature into love and respect. Without a doubt these chemicals permanently organize an infant's brain toward positive behaviors and later development of strong, lasting attachments. However, the greatest lesson from these studies is that while nature has a very good plan, failure to follow it may lead to less desirable results.


photo by xopherlance


Babies, Sensuality and Sex Appeal

3336779168_cc009ec7ebIs the sexualization of the breast responsible for low levels of breastfeeding? A report in Pediatrics said that breastfeeding babies for the first six months of their lives could eliminate 1,000 infant deaths a year and save billions in healthcare costs. But fewer than one-third of babies are fed exclusively on breast milk by three months of age.

Meanwhile, another kind of breast is in the news. Actress Kate Hudson flaunted augmented breasts, while images of reality TV star Heidi Montag were everywhere, thanks to her new F-cups, which look like they're 25 percent of her total body weight.

Call it the battle between breasts and boobs. Are breasts milk dispensers or sexual accoutrements?

In the Playboy era, people used to sniff that men's fixation on breasts was an urge for their mommies. Then, modern conveniences freed many women from the drudgery of housework, and let them become more ornamental. Mommies were freed from having to use their breasts to mother, thanks to formula, just like having a dishwasher let them keep their manicures. It's not surprising that women's fashion become more artificial in this era. Hair was teased and sprayed into a bouffant and long fingernails became de rigueur. No wonder breast augmentation was invented in this era.

Thanks to technology, breasts kept getting bigger and bigger, as the rest of a woman's body shrank. Look at the movie stars of the early 1960s; none of them would be able to get a job as a waitress in Hollywood these days. Today, Marilyn Monroe would be considered a fat cow. Not only was her waist huge, but her breasts were floppy.

Lane Bryant, maker of plus-size fashion, charged that Fox and ABC refused to run TV spots featuring a woman with ample, pillowy breasts. Real flesh is more shocking than the hard, compact balls of silicon we see on most models. http://www.familygoesstrong.com/real-curves-dont-make-it-tv

And an infant actually drawing milk out of a breast seems like a perversion. It's dirty and disgusting, like poo on a white carpet.

This is a shame. Breastfeeding is crucial not only to a baby's physical health, breastfeeding is crucial to the development of a baby's attachment system, tying the sensual pleasure of physical intimacy to trust and love. Even the U.S. Department of health and Human Services calls breastfeeding an important health choice.

Certainly, working outside the home is one of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding for a new mother. But so are the discomfort with breastfeeding in public places and a woman's fears about losing her primary sexual asset.

It's difficult for today's woman to have it both ways. We can work toward the standard of artificial beauty or give up and spread out. Pregnancy and child birth are where many women hit this split in the road. Becoming a mother should be a natural transition point, as it has been for eons. But the expectation that she'll maintain her virginal charms makes her want to get that baby off the breast so she can get back to the gym.

Let's put the breast back in its place: out in public, serving as a baby's first experience of sensuality and pleasure.

PHOTO: clairegren


Feminists Support Attachment Parenting

50102792_d48ec9b43a

 

A study found that women who identified as feminists were more likely to support attachment parenting principles. This is a bit counterintuitive and very reassuring.

As we learn more about how the oxytocin response -- the ability to connect, trust and love -- develops in the first few years of life in response to mothering, some of us wonder whether you can do a good enough job of mothering while having a career and/or independent, fulfilled life outside the home.

As reported by Holly Rossi in Parents Magazine blogs,

The study [by Miriam Liss and Mindy J. Erchull] asked mothers and non-mothers–who either did or did not identify themselves as feminists–to rate their level of support of a number of parenting principles, including the length of time children should be breastfed (from not at all to more than 18 months), whether mothers should carry their children in slings or arms as often as possible, and whether parents should co-sleep with their children.

Interestingly, while feminists in general tended to support attachment parenting principles, individual respondents thought that they were probably in the minority for doing so.

By the way, you don't have to spend 24 hours a day with your baby to create solid attachment. For more, read Good-Enough Attachment Parenting.

PHOTO: DerPlau


Good-Enough Attachment Parenting

TIME_20120521_CV1_685150_C1Time's controversial article on attachment parenting sparked a backlash: It is impossible for most parents to achieve the ideal of close to 24-hour-a-day physical connection to their baby. That doesn't negate the value of learning to mother and father in a way that gives your baby the best start in life: a system bathed in oxytocin.

As I wrote in Oxytocin Parenting, Donald Winnicutt came up with the idea of the "good-enough mother." He believed that not only do mothers -- and fathers -- not need to be perfect, there may be value in the times when we screw up as parents, maybe by being short-tempered or not able to respond immediately to a baby's cries.

As long as we can consistently meet a baby's needs for security, physical connection, being seen and being fed, we can achieve a secure bond and shape the baby's oxytocin response in a healthy way.

Oxytocin Parenting adds to the concepts of attachment parenting by explaining how the way we parent shapes a baby's neural pathways and his or her ability to respond to opportunities for safe connection in a healthy way.

Janice D'Arcy of the Washington Post sums up the controversy and calls for a more nuanced approach to the idea of attachment parenting -- although she seems to imply that attachment parenting means literally being physically attached to your baby, via breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc.

Everyone can achieve a good-enough version of attachment parenting, even if your baby is in daycare, even if your baby was adopted, even if you aren't breastfeeding. Let's not throw out the attachment with the bathwater.


Love My Vagus Nerve

6212291122_666fa9df53_mIf you're a fan of neurochemistry and oxytocin, you probably know about the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for fight-or-flight type responses, and the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calm-and-connection responses.

Marsha Lucas, PhD, wrote an excellent article explaining the polyvagal theory put forth by Stephen Porges, PhD (husband and colleague of Sue Carter, one of the primary oxytocin researchers).

She writes,

His polyvagal theory suggests that there are three circuits (not just two branches), which drive one of three possible responses, depending on how we sense the relative safety, danger, or threat to life in our bodies. ... if the [amygdala's] assessment is that the incoming information indicates that things are safe, a third part of the circuit (the ventral vagus) essentially “turns off” the fight-flight response, and social engagement can happen – a calm state that supports being connected with others. Being in this state allows for better health, growth, and communication.

I've been a fan of the vagus nerve since writing Chemistry of Connection. It's a primary conduit of oxytocin from the brain to the gut and genitals, and it's likely responsible for the connection we feel between food and love. And it may be responsible for that feeling of oneness and connectedness that psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls "elevation."

Read Marsha's article for an excellent explanation of how the amygdala works and what we can experience when we feel safe. Marsha does not mention oxytocin, but, when she writes, "When the ventral vagus is “on”, we have a greater capacity to really listen, in a tuned-in way, to others," that's the effect of oxytocin traveling along this nerve.

To read more:

The Amazing Vagus Nerve

Let Us Elevate Together

The full article by Marcia Lucas is posted on Lisa Kift's blog.

Photo by eljay


Life Experience Critical for the Oxytocin Response

As we move toward Mother's Day, science gave us another reminder of how important mothering is -- mothering as the actions of caring for a child no matter what your biological relationship.

Research led by Michael Poulin of the University of Buffalo looked at genes for oxytocin and vasopressin receptors that have been linked to kindness and generosity. They tested subjects to see if they had these genes, and they also asked them about whether they saw the world as threatening or not, and people as good or bad.

Simply having those kindness genes wasn't as important as life experiences that shaped the person's worldview. According to WebMD:

So although DNA may influence behavior, people do not come pre-programmed to be kind or mean or altruistic or selfish, says lead researcher Michael Poulin, PhD, of the University at Buffalo.

"We are not just puppets of our genes," Poulin tells WebMD. "Genes influence niceness in combination with perceptions of social threat, which come from our past and present experiences."