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.


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

Feminists Support Attachment Parenting



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.

Odent: Pitocin in Childbirth Interferes with Breastfeeding

Natural childbirth advocate Michel Odent will present the results of a first-ever study of the effects of Pitocin on mothering and bonding.

Pitocin is artificial oxytocin usually administered in U.S. hospital births to manage labor -- and speed it along. Critics say that the amount used causes pain and distress to the mother and baby, and that it can cause the emerging baby's hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal system (the HPA axis) to be set at hyperactive levels.

Some think that the widespread use of Pitocin can upset the baby's oxytocin system, contributing to autism spectrum disorder or impaired bonding.

By way of As My Best Birth notes, it's crazy that while the use of Pitocin in hospitals is close to 95 percent, this study is unique. Thanks to @DoniImes for spotting this story.

Self-Worth, Respect and Oxytocin

Sure, there's a connection between how we're treated and our feelings of self-worth. Is there also an oxytocin connection?

Nekole Shapiro of EmbodiedBirth speaks to the connection between how a woman feels about herself sexually--  whether on a date or in the birthing room -- and the production of oxytocin. Learn why disrespecting a laboring woman hinders the birthing process. She finishes by taking us through an exercise that can help you feel more in touch with your own body.

This is Nekole's intro to @RickiLake's movie More Business of Being Born - The VBAC Dilemma at Birth Uncut in Reno NV Nov. 2011.


Sweet Smell of Birth

Evidently, there is a characteristic odor that comes when a woman in natural labor is close to giving birth -- and it's lovely.

According to this article on

It’s a ‘deep’ scent… not musky, necessarily, but primal and vaguely familiar …” Maybe birth smells like the opposite of death? The opposite of decay.


Too Many Newborns Still Die in US

Despite one of the most technologically advanced healthcare systems, the United States is lagging other countries in reducing the risk of death in the first four weeks of life.

A new study published in PLoS found that babies in countries including Poland, Cuba and Malaysia have a better chance of survival than those in the United States.

At the same time, doctors in the US "actively manage labor. What does this tell us?

Huggies Promotes Oxytocin

This is brilliant marketing that also serves the social good. Think about it: Diapers, babies, hugs and mommies. It's a natural fit.

Oh! In fact, that's the name of the product. Huggies Natural Fit is working with parenting expert Dr. Carol Cooper to to help parents further understand the importance of cuddling and the actual cuddle hormone, oxytocin.

Huggies released a survey which found that two thirds of new mothers were unaware of the importance of oxytocin in bonding with their babies. The good news is that more than half strongly believe that cuddling is important for creating a stronger bond.

Oh, wait a minute. That figure is 55 percent. Only 55 percent of mothers know it's important to cuddle their babies? Eek! I hope Huggies can help.

Childbirth Drug Could Have Off-Label Uses

Monash University researcher Dr. Michelle McIntosh hopes to create an aerosol delivery system for oxytocin to replace oxytocin injections commonly used to stop bleeding after delivery of a baby.  She's received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop this drug delivery method, which could eliminate the need for sterile needles and their disposal, as well as for keeping oxytocin refrigerated.

According to the Monash University press release,

“Oxytocin is an ideal candidate for delivery via the lungs. It is a highly potent drug, so only a small amount would be required to enter the systemic circulation. And its demonstrated absorptiveness in the nose and mouth suggests a passage through the huge absorptive surface of the lung is unlikely to present obstacles,” added Dr McIntosh.

Of course, inhaled oxytocin also affects the social circuits in the brain. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists are already testing oxytocin inhalants to help with a variety of psychiatric disorders, and this system could also make it easier for them.

And then, there are all the people out there dying to try oxycin ...