or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Pregnancy and Birth › Birth and Beyond › Birth experience and baby temperament
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Birth experience and baby temperament

post #1 of 41
Thread Starter 
My mom is a psychotherapist, and she is interested in this theory suggesting that birth is a trauma for babies. An implication of this theory is that women who have long, difficult labors, are likely to release more stress hormones, and these may affect baby's temperament. She's convinced that my first son, who was collicky, and is still often hard to settle and highly sensitive is somehow related to my long (by some standards, 16 hours, requiring vacuum but ultimately vaginal, 2 hrs pushing) and traumatic birth experience.

My second was born after just 3 hours of labor and 10 minutes of pushing. Honestly, his temperament seems much more easy going, mainly in that I can put him down to sleep (first only slept on me), he doesn't startle every 20 seconds like my first did (I counted, every 20 seconds for at least 5-10 mins) as a newborn, he sometimes settles himself after a bit of crying (whereas my first always rapidly escalated to desperation as soon as he started crying), etc.

Personally, I think it is totally just a coincidence, and that this theory is a load of, well, you know. But, just to give her a chance, have your different birth experiences been associated with different temperaments, with harder births = harder babies, easier births = easier babies?
post #2 of 41
I had a long, difficult labor (33 hours, c-section) and I wouldn't describe my daughter as "difficult." She's a bright, funny, happy, headstrong 2-year-old who sometimes has meltdowns (like all 2-year-olds), and I neither take credit for nor blame myself for her temperament.

I don't think there's any "one thing" that determines someone's temperament. I see temperament/personality as a complex stew of biological and environmental factors, plus something else (karma? divine intervention? whole-is-bigger-than-sum-of-the-parts something? I don't really know what).

I tend to agree with you that theories of this kind are BS. There is a persistent strain of psychology that is intent on blaming the mother for anything "wrong" with the kid. This just looks like the latest variation on that theme.

That isn't to say that we shouldn't help mothers have easier birthing experiences when possible, but sheesh, let's not load another guilt trip onto moms who have already been through a lot to bring their babies into the world.

Just my 2 cents!
post #3 of 41
I had quick, natural births with no interventions. I had one high needs baby and one mellow, but didn't sleep baby.
post #4 of 41
I actually agree with your mom. I think there is more to it than just the length of birth, but I do think your mom is on to something.

My first birth was vaginal. It was 27 hours with 2 hours of pushing. The first 15 hours was fine, I was at home. But then after that I went to the hospital and once I arrived they broke my water, gave me pitocin and said I couldn't get up from bed. Then I had the Epidural. My son was born needing oxygen, and slept the first 3 days. He was a very colicky baby and at 3 years old has ADHD and sensory issues. Hes pediatrician who specalizes in behavior problems thinks he has something more than ADHD because he can be very wild.

My second birth was amazing. A homebirth, very peaceful, didn't feel any stress or pressure. Birth was still long, 24 hours with 1 hour of pushing. But baby was born pink and plump. No problems with breathing or anything, was very alert and breastfeed 20 minutes later. He is a very happy, content, and calm baby. He rarely cries or fusses. Easy to put to sleep, etc. It is complete night and day with them.
post #5 of 41
I'd be surprised if it didn't have SOME effect, but as PP said, there are way too many factors that go into temperment (especially temperment past infancy) to ascribe too much importance to birth circumstances. You're going to get a lot of anec-data here-- I wouldn't put that much stock into it (no offense).

And now, my anec-data.

My brother is MUCH more "difficult" than I am as an adult, but I was the far more colicky baby. I am the oldest, so my mom's labor with me was (not surprisingly) longer, but my brother's had more interventions... She went pain-med free with both of us, but we were 10 years apart, and when she had my brother at age 40, they induced her with pitocin. Both births were relatively uneventful (for hospital births) and less than 12 hours long.

Like I said, I'd be surprised if birth had NO effect on infants' temperments, but it could hardly be the only factor, and I'd expect the effect to be diluted as we grew older... Though I'm sure we are molded by the fact that, for whatever reason we were colicky or "easy," our parents, et al., reacted to us differently.

The idea that ADD is caused by birth experiences is a little irritating to me, as someone who has ADD and doesn't think it's a bad thing-- and who is tired of hearing it "blamed" on high fructose corn syrup, vaccines, the invention of the combustion engine, etc., and further has the research to show a strong genetic link. I'm sure a lot of ASD people feel the same way.
post #6 of 41
I've only had one baby so far and I do agree that birth can be traumatic for babies, but I doubt my birth had any effect on DS's temperament. His birth was pretty peaceful, was at a birth center, intervention-free, very calm atmosphere. I only labored for ~8 hrs and I stayed pretty calm until transition and I only had to push for less than 30 mins before he came flying out. He is fairly high needs and still has to nap on me while I bounce on an exercise ball. He's a baby that knows what he wants and has to have it right away and with the way my labor progressed, it was almost like he decided one afternoon that he wanted out that day and made that happen (he was born 12 mins before midnight).
post #7 of 41
1st baby- 22hrs, typical hospital labor and birth, not a lot of stress, epidural, ended in unplanned c/s. Super easy-going baby, easy to nurse, hardly cried, instant bonding.
2nd baby- 20hrs, Completely natural vbac in hospital. Obviously painful at the end, but great birth. Baby was super hard, harder to nurse, cried anytime he wasn't held, didn't nap, didn't sleep. Miserable, took longer to bond.
3rd baby- 2 days, planned birth center turned emergency transfer and c/s under general. Good labor, extremely stressful last few hours. Another easy-going baby, nursed great, instant bonding.

So for me, I never put much stock in the theories that more natural easy births create happier babies, better bonding, better nursing, etc.
post #8 of 41
I don't buy it. What's the premise, anyway, that babies are sitting around obsessing about their birth or that it just subconsciously affected them so dramatically? More than everything that happened since that one day, all the cuddles and calm and nursing and love afterward can't possibly affect their temperment but that one day of L&D permanently scars them? Makes no sense.

So for me, I never put much stock in the theories that more natural easy births create happier babies, better bonding, better nursing, etc
ITA. I bonded immediately with DD1 after a pit induction w/ 3 hours of pushing and 5 days in the NICU- easiest baby in the world. I felt like DD2 was someone else's baby for almost 24 hours after a 100% natural labor. Pushing her out only took 20 minutes but was extremely...intense for me and actually I think if I'd had pain relief for pushing I might have bonded to her faster. We're great now but she's a higher needs baby, sleeps much less, has colicky times, etc.
post #9 of 41
I think it's a crock, based on my own experiences. My most traumatic delivery resulted in an unusually laid back baby (compared to his 3 older siblings). My fasted, easiest l&d is my high-stress kid, and always has been.

I do joke about the fact that my blonds have been delivered by blonds, and my brunettes have been delivered by brunettes, but sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence!
post #10 of 41
I think that birth is SUPPOSED to be pretty traumatic for babies, so I'm not sure I buy into that. Babies are made to bend in strange ways so that they can fit through the birth canal. I can't imagine that it's particularly pleasant to have your skull be in multiple pieces so it can squish together and make it out of Mom. And don't forget that going through the birth canal is supposed to be a REALLY tight fit, and one of the frequent complications with C sections is that the baby doesn't get all the fluid squeezed out of her. I mean, when you're saying that it's a GOOD thing that the baby is squeezed so tightly that her lungs are completely compressed and anything in them has to come out, you're definitely not talking "fun times." Then there are mom hormones and baby hormones designed to race through them, and that can't be entirely pleasant.

If any of us, as adults, recreated a birth experience we'd most likely end up dead!

I think that births can range from easy to traumatic for Mom... but I kind of have the feeling that as far as the baby is concerned, birth ranges from traumatic to very traumatic. Luckily, they have very, very short memories!
post #11 of 41
I don't buy it. I think temperament is a result of biology, and that experiences/nurture can help people "express" their temperament in a more or less healthy/positive way. However, babies express their temperaments in the most unfiltered way.

I had short labors and home births with both girls. With the first, pushing was intense and I was stressed for 1 1/2 hours of pushing. She screamed for 3 months. With the second, I had a calmer pushing stage and she is slightly less intense. I don't think my labor was the cause of either child's temperament.
post #12 of 41
With my children I kind of think it as the other way around. My first son has special needs (Down Syndrome), but was an easy going baby. Labor with him was kind of unassuming, straight-forward, he was calm and healthy at birth. I kind of think of it as he just went with the flow of labor and birth because he's just a go-with-the-flow kind of guy.

With my second son, he was in an acynclitic position and stayed in that position despite chiropractic treatments, positioning, crawling around my house on my hands and knees for the last weeks of pregnancy. I thought of him as a stubborn little guy before he was even born. Labor was long and painful, but not traumatic, and when he was finally born he was healthy and calm after some help to get him breathing well (just a few puffs of the ambu bag--he was already breathing, but not great). He nursed well, was fairly calm, but as I had suspected was/is a very stubborn fellow who always knows exactly what he wants and is not likely to settle for something else. As a baby this mean lots of crying until we figured out his need. My easy going number one would settle for anything.

Anyway, for me I felt my son's unique personalities contributed to the way birth played out. Of course, I should add both of my births had women centered teams who let me do what I needed to, and despite minor complications in each, I never felt afraid or traumatized (though very emotional in the second one). I will see if my own theory turns out to be true for me as I suspect the boy I am expecting now is a very easy going, sensitive fellow.
post #13 of 41
I think temperament is largely genetic, and I would hate to think that any one event that is universal for everybody on the planet could be some sort of make-or-break deal that sets the tone for an entire lifetime.

I have a doula friend who has a hypothesis that first babies are more colicky and high needs because they have more head molding and are in pain from the plates moving, but I am not sure I buy this entirely because the fussiness can last for weeks or months.

I would love to see if there is a correlation between birth order and colicky/high-needs behavior in infants. I have anecdotal evidence that points to #1 being more fussy and hard to soothe, with #2 being more laid back, but I can see that being subject to recall bias, parental inexperience versus ease with caring for a newborn, preformed expectations about what the baby 'should' be like, etc. I would bet money that just like it's been discovered that maternal antigens play a role in younger sons being more likely to be gay than older sons, there will be a discovery that the hormonal bath that #1 marinates in affects the hormonal bath that #2 marinates in. Just as that first baby 'blazes the trail' through the pelvis, I bet the mother's body is learning/adjusting/adapting in all sorts of subtle biochemical ways that we are only starting to get an inkling of. But I'm no scientist.
post #14 of 41
I don't buy it. I think that it is something that happens and is not caused my birth. We all have different personalities and that is okay. I have two daughters who are COMPLETELY different. I am pregnant with my 3rd (due in 3 weeks) and can't wait to see what she is like.

Daughter 1 - Medically induced at 42 weeks, took hours to get into labor, once I was in labor it was only 6 hours, no problems, no pain meds, born at hospital, 9 lb 6 oz and 22 inches. She was the most laid back, easy going, happy baby that I have ever seen. She slept through the night really early and was just super easy. She is now 9 years old and still a great, easy, happy kid.

Daughter 2 - Self induced with castor oil at 40 +3, 4 hour labor, no pain meds, she was born posterior, no problems, most relaxed labor, 9 lb 15 oz and 23 inches, born at birth center. This was my favorite birth even with her positioning and size. She was a very difficult baby, colicky, never slept, hated people, hated change, clingy, etc. She is now 5 years old and the same way. They believe she has a form of autism but definately has developmental delays. She is still anti-social, cries constantly, doesn't sleep, clingy, easily upset, etc.
post #15 of 41
All kinds of people have all kinds of theories about this. I do know of several women though, who have elective caesarean births because they believe it's the least traumatic for babies. One woman even crossed into a neighbouring European country to birth her first babe because her home country does not allow elective caesareans.

I don't believe it for a minute and can't believe woman would choose to start out so far behind the 8-ball.

My son was born in 6.5 hrs without intervention in a very straightforward manner and has been a delight, except for the fact that he didn't sleep for longer than an hour for the first 20 months of his life!
post #16 of 41
I think it's just another stick to beat women with. If you don't have an easy birth your baby will be unhappy!!! Stay calm!!! Don't make too much noise!!! Don't get stressed!!! YOU WILL DAMAGE YOUR BABY!!!!!

It's simply not true. Have a look on these pages for all the women struggling to come to terms with their not-so-great birth experiences and then decide if you really want to throw one more guilt trip at them.

Vaginal birth in a calm and relaxed setting where everybody is healthy and happy is what most people would choose, but they don't always get that choice.
post #17 of 41
ITA with alfabetsoup. This is just another finger of blame to point at women!

My first was a planned HB, 1hour24min active labour, 5mins pushing, apgars 9, 7, 10 (the 7, i believe, was because she was shocked at the speed of her exit and the MW cut the cord right away, she had some oxygen from a tube near her face and soon got over it). She was incredibly high needs. Cried for hours every night, is still a very demanding and challenging personality.

My 2nd was a planned HB, 61mins active labour, 6mins pushing, apgars 10, 10, 10. She is the mellowest creature alive, has been sttn since birth (i mean 7-9 hours, not the 5 we might hope for from a bigger BF baby).

They have different fathers and are both like their fathers in terms of temperament. Not a huge surprise. I was born at 37+4 in a planned csection (VBAC wasn't an option). I was a mellow baby, a HN toddler and a conscientious and "good" child. I am a stubborn, strong-willed, no-nonsense feminist woman now. I have been through sex abuse, rape, the illness and death of a parent, wonderful and terrible relationships, fantastic and devastating experiences. I honestly feel there is almost NOTHING of me i can trace back to those 5 minutes of my life when i was suddenly wrenched unexpectedly into the daylight through my mother's side.
post #18 of 41
I'm not inclined to put too much stock in it, but I can think of one line of thought that might support it. I'm a Traditional Foodie, so I've read a lot of Weston A Price's stuff, and he paid a lot of attention to traditional cultures with excellent health and the diets he felt contributed to that health. One thing that cropped up time and time again was the relationship between traditional foods and short, easy labours. In a lot of tribal societies, births were easy and quick UNTIL processed foods were introduced - white sugar, white flour and so on. Then a generation later, women were having much much harder labours. The inferior diets meant poor bone structure, so badly-formed pelvises and so on.


It's reasonable to assume that a baby well-nourished in the womb might be more mellow outside it, as there's an obvious relationship between nutrition and mental health in adults. And a mother with good zinc levels (who would therefore produce a baby with good zinc levels) has a better chance at bonding and a lower incidence of PPD, both of which could indirectly result in a "happier" baby.

Sooooo, in theory, maybe the really well-nourished mothers - and particularly those whose mothers were also well-nourished, so they had good pelvic development - would both have easier births and easier babies, for the same reason - good nutrition.

I dunno. Sorta makes sense, but I think there are probably heaps of factors which contribute to a baby's temperament - not least parental perception. One woman's fussy baby is another woman's easy baby, because we all have different levels of stress and sleep deprivation and expectations of parenthood and so on!

FWIW, my birth with DD was traumatic for me, but I don't know how much that affected her. I would have had stress hormones galore coursing through my body, but I was only induced with prostoglandin gel, so she didn't get the mega-Pitocin contractions. Fairly short pushing stage, skin-to-skin and breastfeeding afterwards. As a baby... well, she was perfectly happy most of the time, as long as I was holding her. If not, well, no.
post #19 of 41
Originally Posted by CI Mama View Post
I don't think there's any "one thing" that determines someone's temperament. I see temperament/personality as a complex stew of biological and environmental factors, plus something else (karma? divine intervention? whole-is-bigger-than-sum-of-the-parts something? I don't really know what).

I tend to agree with you that theories of this kind are BS. There is a persistent strain of psychology that is intent on blaming the mother for anything "wrong" with the kid. This just looks like the latest variation on that theme.
I agree totally with your first paragraph quoted, CI Mama. Personality is MUCH more than the result of any one experience. And I firmly believe that all of our children come into our wombs with already being a 'person'--with a given nature (and possibly, as some religions claim, with a past-life set of circumstances to process in this life). Now, that given nature is going to be subject to influences, of course, in the way it's expressed--but what some babies find upsetting, others might enjoy--or just don't much respond to it, one way or another.

But I don't think, in this case, that anyone is trying to blame mamas per se. I mean, the 'theory' is that birth itself traumatizes babies. The 'blame' goes to nature--to the very design of birth.

Obviously, if the mother has a difficult birth, and thus has more stress hormones running around in her system than usual, her particular birth could potentially impact her particular baby with 'trauma', than babies of easier births. So perhaps this theory could be used in some cases to implicate moms in their babies' trauma.

Anyway, NO! I most definitely do NOT believe that birth itself is traumatic for babies--not by design. We have to remember that so much of what presents difficulties to those of us already born, is about beliefs and expectations. We all know that two mamas could have quite similar births with quite similar providers and outward circumstances, and while one mama is traumatized, the other is happy enough...the main differences lying in what they hoped for and expected, their agreement or disagreements with the way care was handled. But Babies do not yet have much by way of expectations. What is, is simply what is. Babies, in general, also live so very much in the present...so let's say that while navigating mama's pelvis during birth, there were bad moments--even some pain for baby (which by the way, I think is pretty unusual): as soon as that pain is gone, baby's chemistry shifts, all is well enough again. They are onto the present moment already, and generally not thinking about or reliving the moment of pain. When their chest is getting squeezed, it might not be comfortable but they don't need their torso to be free for breathing or digesting at that moment--so it is just a sensation, not necessarily judged as 'bad' because it's no threat.

Now of course, there CAN be real trauma for babies at birth--and it can effect them in body and mind/feelings, sometimes even for a long time. But right now I'm thinking of a birth I saw once: a fairly quick active labor with an experienced mama and dh. At the very end, there was a greater than average amount of squeeze on that baby's head and chest--delivery was slowish and sticky-ish. Baby was born very dark blue. Normal heart rate, but very blue and 'low response' (not 'none', but slow to start breathing/moving). Parents and mw gave that baby a lot of stim in the first couple minutes--such as firmly flicking the bottom of the baby's feet (surely it stung! and was repeated a few times in those minutes). Parents were quite certain that only such stim was needed and the baby did come around nicely. Parents continued their encouragement and also physical stim until baby was crying heartily--and rather than comforting her immediately, they let her cry (they were holding her of course, talking to her--but saying 'that's great, you cry now, that's what we need'). Anyway--baby pinked up, calmed down....and from that moment forward was the calmest happiest baby.

Anyway, from physiological signs, surely that birth was a little traumatic for baby. And still--NOT traumatic in the sense of a clinging distress, baby-PTSD, nothing like that. Parents kind of joked after, that it wasn't the peaceful birth they hoped for--but hey, life is sometimes a bit rough and that's the way it is--the point is to move on through it. And even that, I believe, had a positive effect on their baby's dealing with a couple of really uncomfortable minutes during birth/after: THEY were not traumatized, not for themselves OR on their baby's behalf. Because they were never distressed by it, no one passed along the biochemicals of distress (through the milk, or their pheromones...) nor any other behaviors of distress. Because for them, it was just 'baby's first big adventure--happily achieved in spite of some scary moments', they did not communicate anything but the calm, joyous love that any baby benefits from. And baby, being a baby, just moved on as babies do so well--having every reason for contentment in the present.

Birth, I think, is meant to be stimulating to babies--in positive, health-serving ways. But to say that it is necessarily and by design 'traumatic' to babies just has no basis in fact whatsoever. Trauma can occur for some babies, yes--and that is due either to unusual factors of mama's birth (natural/unavoidable) or caused by poor care for mama/baby (which is a very big topic--not for this discussion).

As some have pointed out, a mama might be pretty traumized by a difficult birth--and yet babies can come out peacefully and ready for the world anyway.

Porcelina--I hope you will encourage your mom to shift the focus of her studies! Having more thoughtful psychotherapists studying birth trauma for moms and babies can be a very good thing, IMO. But I don't believe that any moms/babies are going to be helped by promoting a theory that birth is inherently traumatic. Now, studying the factors that CAN make for the experience of trauma, that would be great

In fact, you can pm me if your mom would like to talk to a birth professional about this topic in physiological and psychological terms...and a mom of 6 with anecdotes to share, too
post #20 of 41
In a lot of tribal societies, births were easy and quick UNTIL processed foods were introduced - white sugar, white flour and so on.

Funny how that coincided with colonialism-- which I'm sure had nothing to do with maldistribution of resources, increased stress, etc.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Birth and Beyond
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Pregnancy and Birth › Birth and Beyond › Birth experience and baby temperament