Attachment Parenting Begins at Birth

Following on last week’s post about planning for a calm birth, and in honor of Attachment Parenting Month, I want to share some thoughts about the incredible and beautiful first hour after birth and its importance to the bonding between mother and baby.

First, though, what do I mean by the term “attachment parenting”?  In The Attachment Parenting Book, Dr. William Sears defines “attachment parenting” as an approach rather than a set of rules:

Above all, attachment parenting means opening your mind and heart to the individual needs of your baby and letting your knowledge of your child be your guide to making on-the-spot decisions about what works best for both of you. (2)

I couldn’t agree more.  When I teach baby care classes, I always stress the importance of getting to know your baby as an individual – her personality, her needs, her likes and dislikes.  I’ve had six babies of my own, and each one is precious and totally unique!  And this can’t just be knowledge on an intellectual level.  As Dr. Sears says, this is a “mind and heart” process.  Caring for your baby, knowing your baby, is loving your baby.  And that, to me, is the essence of attachment parenting.  It looks different for every mother.  It looks different for every mother-baby duo…every time.  But, at its core, it’s love.

And this is the importance of that first hour after birth: it is precious bonding time.  It’s the time when the love for this new little person bubbles up and overflows – truly, it is a sacred time.

Babies who have had an uncomplicated birth and who are immediately placed skin-to-skin with the mother begin their transition to life outside the womb with a period of quiet alertness.  They don’t cry, their eyes are wide open, and they seem just to soak in the love that surrounds them.

The baby listens to his parents’ voices and studies his mother’s face.  The mother’s body adapts to warm her baby, the baby’s first suckling causes the release of oxytocin, which helps the uterus to contract.  Marshall Klaus, the renowned pediatrician, notes in Your Amazing Newborn that, indeed, “[m]other and baby appear to be carefully adapted for these first moments together” (11).  He goes on to say that

[t]his special state, this innate ability to communicate, may prepare the way for the future attachment between the newborn and those who care for her. (22)

This profound connectedness — physical, emotional, and spiritual — between mother and baby immediately after birth should be respected as much as possible.  Many hospitals are putting skin-to-skin policies in place, where the baby will be placed immediately on the mother’s chest instead of whisked away to the warmer, and this is the norm for births in a birth center or at home.   Allowing families to have this bonding time has long-term benefits for breastfeeding and attachment as the baby grows.

That said, it’s important to note that if this time is disrupted for some reason, there is no need to fear that bonding won’t happen or will somehow be “less” because it happened at a different time or in a different way.  Dr. Sears notes that

bonding is not an all-or-nothing event that happens only in the first hour after birth. … The attachment between parents and infant develops over many days and months, and it happens differently for everyone. (37)

Photo by David J. Laporte

If you’re currently expecting or planning for a new baby, consider adding skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth (provided there is no medical reason to do otherwise) to your birth plan.  And make sure that you set up postpartum help so that you can relax and enjoy your baby instead of worrying about meals or the laundry.  Aviva Jill Romm describes the early postpartum period this way in her fabulous book Natural Health after Birth:

Mamatoto means “Mother-Baby,” describing what in traditional cultures was a virtually inseparable relationship.  Mother and baby spent the early days wrapped together in warmth, baby nursing freely, mother alternately resting and becoming familiar with the needs of her newborn. (58)

In the hours and days after birth, mothers (and fathers too) should take the time to enjoy their babies, getting to know them as the amazing little individuals that they are.  Frequent breastfeeding and holding the baby as much as possible are wonderful ways to build a strong parent-child connection that will last far beyond the diaper days.

 

Newborn baby photo courtesy of papaija2008/freedigitalphotos.net.

About Shannon Valenzuela

S.K. doesn’t believe in straight paths to anywhere. Her many meanderings have taken her through a Ph.D. in English Literature and becoming a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and she is now the homeschooling mama of four rambunctious boys and two darling little girls. Currently, she teaches prepared childbirth and baby care classes at a major Dallas hospital and freelances about all things pregnancy, birth, and mothering. Her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released later this year. S.K. also enjoys writing fiction, especially in the medium created by the happy collision of sci-fi, fantasy, and legend that produced her debut novel, Silesia: The Outworlder. The sequel, The Lords of Askalon, will be released this fall. You can find out more about her current and upcoming projects at skvalenzuela.com.