A photo says a thousand words. This photograph of a mother in labor, nursing her toddler, tells a wonderful, heartwarming story.
As more and more photographers are tapping into the world of birth photography, more beautiful images are emerging of this otherwise private event. A New Jersey-based photographer recently captured an intimate moment between a laboring mother and her 2-year-old daughter. While the woman labored with her second baby, also a girl, her toddler climbed up into her hospital bed to nurse.
To some, this may seem a strange sight. It’s certainly rare to see a mother nursing an older child, much less in this setting. But as the photographer pointed out in the original article, no one there thought much of it. Though it’s rarely seen, I know this is common practice worldwide. The average age a child weans worldwide is between 2.5 and 7 years old – much longer than in the United States. In many cultures, mothers may nurse several children simultaneously simply because it just makes sense. Children benefit, mothers benefit, there is no reason to deny either one. This instance is no different.
I think it’s brilliant.
The role that oxytocin plays in labor has been well documented. We know that while oxytocin is the hormone of love, it also stimulates uterine contractions. Pitocin, which is often used to induce contractions, is the synthetic form of oxytocin, so it can stimulate contractions but it does not provide the warm, loving, mothering feelings. Some of the uses of pitocin could be avoided if mothers knew ways to naturally release oxytocin, like breastfeeding or just nipple stimulation, kisses, hugs or touch from loved ones. Breastfeeding provides a flood of oxytocin as well as prolactin, which helps mothers feel calm and relaxed. What a perfect tool for labor!
I can only imagine all the magic happening in this room that even this lovely photo could not capture. The little girl had just been brought up to visit her mom. She quite possibly felt a bit uneasy out of her element or she may have needed some reassurance about the big changes she sensed. The dad and grandma are looking on with pride and joy. I don’t know how long they had been watching the mother labor, if they were tired or anxious, but in this photo, it’s obvious they are content.
And the mother – who knows what the hours before this looked like for her. She could have been tired, nervous, sad to leave her daughter at home, overwhelmed by the discomforts of labor, unsure about changing the dynamic of a one baby family to two babies. Yet in this photo, she is smiling and enjoying her first baby before she welcomes the second. She has room for both of them. All of this, and the baby in the womb is benefitting from the oxytocin rush and stronger contractions. She was born two hours later.
But for this brief moment, breastfeeding allowed everyone in the room a moment to be still and love. This mother could bond with both babies at the same time just moments before they met each other. What a picture of the joys and sacrifices of motherhood.
Photo credit: Maegan Dougherty Photography