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Trust your instinct when baby cries.



Last week, I took my three year old, Kurtis, to his first swimming lesson. Even though he is my third, I was still excited. As I arrived, somewhat late (very little changes, even when you’re on your third baby!) and when we approached the side of the pool ready to get in, the lesson had started. There was one child in the water, sobbing, and crying for his mummy, who watched anxiously from the side. He kept trying to wriggle out of the instructor’s arms, looking over at mum, pleading and desperate.

Now, of course, I don’t know that he was desperate. That is my interpretation. My interpretation would also be that we “should” listen to the child’s distress and respond. I guess the mum’s heart was telling herself that too – but for reasons of her own, she resisted that gut feeling. We are persuaded, often, in our society, to put our maternal instinct aside and the result is that mum hurts too. Luckily, that is changing, but only because science is now producing evidence that love and care are brain food for a baby. I decided that her way of doing things belongs to her, and my way is different. So I stayed on the side, waiting for my son to want to get in the water (I knew it wouldn’t take long, because although he was anxious, he won’t be able to resist for long.) I had done this with previous lessons, and of course, we do it when settling children in to nursery or pre-school too. Anyhow, after a couple of minutes, the instructor took him into the water, unwilling and beginning to cry, and asked me to move to the viewer’s area because it was disrupting the class to have me there. I think she meant I was disrupting her, because the other mum in question had also come to the side, after over ten minutes of her child sobbing and appealing to her.

I wasn’t happy to have him cry, so I hauled him out, comforted my distressed child, and left. As I was leaving, three mums came running out to me to comfort me. At some level, they get that this process hurts mums too. They “reassured” me that he would only sob for four or five sessions, and then he would love it. I felt the pressure to bow to an institutional system which I disagree with. I felt the sense of inadequacy that I was pandering to him, and that I had been a disruption to the smooth running of the class.

After we were dressed and leaving, the class was finishing. The child was still crying and sobbing. Half an hour must be a long time in a three year old’s life. My boy skipped out of the room. Did he become “spoilt” in that he got his way? Who knows.

As parents, we are caught by two evolutionary driven systems. The system to conform to society and learn from others. This helps us work within our society and raise children who can function in it. It makes us sociable humans. But the maternal instinct sometimes works in opposition to the social system. The maternal instinct is to flush with pleasure when baby smiles, and to be distressed when baby cries or refuses food. I’ve had my fill of controlled crying (9 years ago when I blindly followed the advice of books) and of not sleeping with my baby (heightening my nocturnal anxiety about his welfare- that isn’t neurosis, it’s natural when separated from your baby). I’m so pleased things are changing with regards the advice coming out.

Why Love Matters is a book which summarises the science beautifully. But, and it is a big but, all advice can be interpreted as a “should”. “Shoulds” put pressure on us, make us feel like others know better than us, and introduces the possibility of failure. There is very little out there to tell a mum to listen to her heart, her instinct, and her baby (we need a new version of Dr Spock). To love to love, for love’s sake. Not for science’s sake, or even baby’s sake. If you do it for baby’s sake, you forget to give yourself a break, and to realise that sometimes you just need a cup of tea on your own, and that is okay. If you do it because your heart tells you to, you do it genuinely, and, by the strangest coincidence, that is when your baby gets the most from it too.

So, I was quite proud of myself (after debriefing with two friends to help me make sense of my feelings) that I listened to my maternal instinct, and not societal pressure. Our classes and cd do give advice, but they also help you to listen to your heart, body and baby, during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
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Mums recognise the cry of naturally born babies.

At Mindful Mamma we already know that mums who delivered naturally are responsive to their babies, and that babies born vaginally are known bond quicker and feed better. But this study, which has been widely reported, left us thinking there are perhaps more environmental factors which influence how a mother responds to their baby’s cry and the emotional bond they feel with their baby. We find that women who have prepared well, are able to make informed choices and who feel empowered by their births respond well to their baby whatever their birth and feel that they had a positive birthing experience.

Lack of response to the baby is often linked to post natal depression and guilt that the mother hasn’t been able to give her baby a “perfect birth”. In the study by Dr. James Swain, Child Study Centre, Yale University it isn’t clear how the women were chosen, what sort of birth preparation they had, nor the circumstances under which they had a caesarean. So it really isn’t the full picture.

The study published yesterday has found that mothers who delivered vaginally compared to caesarean section delivery (CSD) were significantly more responsive to the cry of their own baby, identified through MRI brain scans two to four weeks after delivery.

The results of the study published today in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggest that vaginal delivery (VD) mothers are more sensitive to hearing their own baby-cry in the regions of the brain that are believed to regulate emotions, motivation and habitual behaviours.

A caesarean is a surgical procedure, in which delivery occurs via incisions in the abdominal and uterine wall. It is considered necessary under some conditions to protect the health or survival of infant or mother, but it is controversially linked with postpartum depression. In the US the occurrence of CSD has increased steeply from 4.5% of all deliveries in 1965 to a recent high in 2006 of 29.1%. In the UK the figure is slightly lower at around 23% – this varies from hospital to hospital.

The critical capacity of adults to develop the thoughts and behaviours needed for parents to care successfully for their newborn infants is supported by specific brain circuits and a range of hormones. The experience of childbirth by VD compared with CSD uniquely involves the release of oxytocin from the posterior pituitary, uterine contractions and vagino-cervical stimulation. Oxytocin is a key mediator of maternal behaviour in animals. You produce additional amounts of Oxytocin during the birth and after the birth the rush of love is linked to a rush of Oxytocin.

“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 lead author Dr. James Swain, Child Study Centre, Yale University. “Our results support the theory that variations in delivery conditions such as with caesarean section, which alters the neurohormonal experiences of childbirth, might decrease the responsiveness of the human maternal brain in the early postpartum.”

The researchers also looked into the brain areas affected by delivery conditions and found relationships between brain activity and measures of mood suggesting that some of the same brain regions may help regulate postpartum mood. So this may have an impact on postnatal depression.

At Mindful Mamma we teach you to trust and have confidence in your birthing body, so the risk of caesarean is significantly reduced if you have prepared well for birth emotionally and practically. HypnoBirthing mums have an average of 9% of caesareans compared with a national average of 23%. Those mums who have delivered by caesarean have demonstrated a positive response to their baby knowing that they had the best birth possible and even the preparation they undertook, kept them connected with their baby who had the psychological and neurological benefit of reduced levels of cortisol in the womb while mum took time to relax during her pregnancy.