Natural Childbirth May Help Moms Respond to Babies

September 07, 2008 11:59 AM
by Shannon Firth
A new study suggests that natural childbirth can make mothers more responsive to their children as the debate over natural vs. Caesarean section birth continues.

The Role of Hormones in Birth

A recent study from Yale University revealed that natural birth may make mothers “significantly more responsive to the cry of their own baby,” reports Science Daily.

“We wondered which brain areas would be less active in parents who delivered by caesarean section, given that this mode of delivery has been associated with decreased maternal behaviours in animal models, and a trend for increased postpartum depression in humans,” said Dr. James Swain of Yale’s Child Study Centre, the study’s lead author.

MRI scans of the brains of mothers two to four weeks after childbirth showed that those who delivered through natural births, also known as vaginal delivery, were more sensitive to hearing their own child’s cry than those who had caesarean sections.

Brain areas related to mood were also more active in mothers who had delivered their children via natural birth.

The reason, researchers say, may be chemical. Oxytocin, which has been called the “bonding hormone, “the love hormone” and the “cuddle chemical,” is released during natural childbirth, reports the newspaper The Scotsman. Oxytocin is also released when women breastfeed and have sex.

Caesarian sections, according to ScienceDaily, have been “controversially linked to postpartum depression,” which could affect a mother’s ability to care for her child early on.

That could have lifelong implications, as most early childhood experts agree the support a child receives in the first three years of life hugely affects his or her physical and mental well-being later on, according to Baby Futures, a Los Angeles organization dedicated to helping families with infants and toddlers.

Science Daily noted that the number of caesarians, or c-sections in the United States has grown from 4.5 percent in 1965 to 29.1 percent in 2006. Other developing countries are also seeing more C-sections, according to the World Health Organization. In China, C-sections accounted for 40.5 percent of births in 2000, ahead of Mexico at 39.1 percent, according to the most recent statistics available.

Swain told ScienceDaily that this study could help lead to better detection of the families at risk for postpartum depression.

Opinion: The debate over C-sections; medical intervention in birth

Delivering a child by natural birth or C-section is one of the first debates that pregnant women encounter.

Salon writer Carol Lloyd, who planned two natural births and wound up with two C-sections, said people shouldn’t assume that women who have C-sections are ‘too posh to push.’
“The debate over the safety (and, by extension, the moral righteousness) of C-sections on demand is one that typically pits midwives against doctors, and granola-eating home-birthers against Posh Spice wannabes. Medically, the evidence is mixed.”

Doctors and hospital staff can influence mothers’ decisions, Lloyd adds.

Elizabeth Payne, a writer for Canada’s Ottawa Citizen, has had both types of deliveries. She believes in natural birth, but doesn’t but doesn’t endorse the “too posh too push” criticism heaped on Posh Spice, who has reportedly had elective C-sections, and other celebrities. Childbirth, she said, is being unnecessarily influenced by medicine.

She cited an anecdote about pregnancies that took place during Hurricane Charley, from “Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care” by Jennifer Block to support her argument: “During the few days following the hurricane, nurses noticed a change in the way babies were being born: most babies made it into the outside world without medical intervention and within hours of their mothers arriving at the hospital; nurses saw no cases of fetal distress or respiratory distress in newborns; and the hospital's C-section rate dropped dramatically.”

Related Topic: Pregnant women say natural childbirth worth some risks

Reference: Overview of C-sections; guide to pregnancy


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