After a baby is born, it is natural to see the mother kissing the baby. One would think this is simply because of the emotional bond that has formed between mother and child. While this is true, there are also other very compelling biochemical reasons why it occurs. These reasons reinforce the understanding that our bodies have inner wisdom which we seldom recognize or trust. Just as our bodies know how to give birth even if we don’t have intellectual knowledge of the process, our bodies’ biological systems also have reasons for the complex social interplay between mother and baby. It just goes to show that, more than ever, we should trust our mothering instincts.
When an animal gives birth, you will notice that the mother spends a lot of time licking her young. This exposes her five senses to the young so that she knows the taste, smell, feel, sound and sight of her new baby. In this way, a mother claims her child as her own.
When a human mother births a baby in an environment which allows her immediate and free access to her child, you will notice that over a period of time she performs certain behaviours called “claiming behaviours.” She will caress the child, explore the softness of the baby’s skin, and probably count and fondle the unique little fingers and toes.
She probably marvels visually over how much the baby looks like her or her husband or another family member. She will notice the colour of the hair and eyes and other physical features. She hears the baby’s cries and learns to distinguish them from all other cries. As she leans down to kiss the child, she undoubtedly smells the scent of her new baby and through the actual act of kissing; she comes to know the taste of him or her.
Just like an animal mother, she has now exposed her five senses to the baby so she attaches to him or her. She now feels he or she is her own. It is not unusual to find that women who are deprived of the privacy required to create this immediate bonding right after birth often say they feel a distance between them and their baby.
Claiming behaviours such as kissing provide not only emotional, but biological attachment. There is a very real health benefit for the baby who is kissed.
“When a mother kisses her baby, she ‘samples’ those pathogens that are on the baby’s face. Those are ones that the baby is about to ingest. These samples are taken up by the mother’s secondary lymphoid organs like the tonsils, and memory B cells specific for those pathogens are re-stimulated. These B cells then migrate to the mother’s breasts where they produce just those antibodies that the baby needs.” says Lauren Sompayrac, author of How The Immune System Works.
We talk a lot about breast milk and how it conveys antibodies to the infant helping to prevent illness. However antibodies made for the mother while pregnant are not what the baby needs. He or she needs antibodies for the environment around them that they are in constant contact with now. Kissing her baby is a very important activity beyond its obvious pleasurable and attachment- promoting value. It helps mother claim baby, and helps her body determine the antibodies baby needs in the breast milk.
So mothers, kiss away on those babies!
Copyright 2001 by Judie Rall of Unhindered Living. Reprinted with permission in the Winter 2007 issue of Birthing Magazine.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have been asked these questions! What amazes me though is that society in general doesn’t get it, they don’t get why so many babies need to be held by us to settle and what perplexes me even more is that we do spend so long trying to put them down!
We spend more than time though, the ‘putting babies down’ industry is worth millions, rocking cribs, battery swings, vibrating chairs, heartbeat teddies and the list goes on………………having been a first time parent who bought all four of the items listed above I am embarrased to admit now it honestly didn’t enter into my head that perhaps the answer was to *not* put my baby down and I certainly didn’t consider why these things might help. It took me a long time to understand and empathise with my baby, to see the world through his eyes so to speak.
“Empathy: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing ofthe feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”
To empathise with our newborns feelings we need to put ourselves in their place, to imagine experiencing their world – but which world? The world they have spent most of their life in, their ‘womb world’ or the world they are in now – our world. To fully understand we must appreciate the enormous transition they have made – a concept known to many as ‘The Fourth Trimester’ -some make the womb to world transition easily, others less so and it is this latter group in particular “the clingy babies” we can learn so much from through this concept.
“Birth suddenly disrupts this organization. During the month following birth, baby tries to regain his sense of organization and fit into life outside the womb. Birth and adaptation to postnatal life bring out the temperament of the baby, so for the first time he must do something to have his needs met. He is forced to act, to “behave.” If hungry, cold, or startled, he cries. He must make an effort to get the things he needs from his caregiving environment. If his needs are simple and he can get what he wants easily, he’s labeled an “easy baby”; if he does not adapt readily, he is labeled “difficult.”” – Dr. William Sears.
So lets quickly compare the two different ‘worlds’ your baby has lived in:
Pretty different huh? On top of this the big thing to understand is that in utero the baby’s world was constant, each day was the same, the stimulation didn’t change, but now they are born each day is different – ever changing, ever stimulating!
You’ll find much more discussion on fourth trimester and ideas to help you cope for the first 6 months of parenthood, including sleep, developmental stages, recovering from birth, routines and coping with colic and cluster feeding in my BabyCalm Book – available from Amazon in the UK or if you’re in the USA you can pre-order the US version released next year from Amazon.com. If you’re elsewhere you can order with worldwide free delivery from The Book Depository .
READ ON FOR TIPS TO COPE WITH THE FOURTH TRIMESTER:
The concept of the fourth trimester helps us to understand the transition a newborn must make over their first few weeks earthside and once we understand we find so many ways we can help – but to me the most important facet of the fourth trimester is parental understanding and empathy, once that exists everything else will flow naturally.
Here are some common newborn calming techniques that tend to work quite well, but remember each and every baby is different, if you don’t already know, you will soon learn what your baby likes best and that’s what matters, that it is unique to *your* baby. Prescriptive ‘do this/don’t do this’ baby calming lists don’t help anybody – because they forget they are dealing with individuals – both parents and babies! Some things on this list will be inappropriate for you and your baby, some simply won’t work, some you won’t like – and that’s OK! because really it isn’t about these tips it’s about you and your baby getting to know each other!
Movement: The womb is a constantly moving space, Braxton Hicks would squeeze your baby at the end of pregnancy and each time you moves your baby was wobbled around inside. Imagine how walking upstairs feels for a baby in utero! Babies tend to love movement but so often we put them down somewhere completely still. You could try dancing, swaying from side to side, going for an exaggerated quick walk or bumpy car ride.
Swaddling: Imagine how snug your baby was at the very end of your pregnancy inside of you – now imagine how strange it must feel to them after they have been born and have so much space around them! The absolutely best thing you can do is to envelop your baby in your arms, but for times when you don’t want to or indeed can’t then swaddling is an option.
Swaddling is becoming increasingly popular, however there are important safety guidelines to be followed if you choose to swaddle your baby, if you are breastfeeding please make sure feeding is established before swaddling and take care not to miss your baby’s hunger cues if you are feeding on demand:
Skin to Skin Contact: Such a brilliant baby calmer! Being in contact with your warm, naturally (un)scented, skin is heaven for a baby, it helps to stabilise their body temperature, heart rate and stress hormones and stimulates the release of oxytocin – the love and bonding hormone – in you both. Topless cuddles, shared baths, baby massage and bedsharing are all great skin to skin experiences for your baby and you.
Bed-Sharing: Sharing a bed with your baby is an amazing way of getting more sleep for everyone, babies are generally much calmer and sleep more easily if they sleep with you in your bed, yet it is such a taboo topic and although 60% of parents will share a bed with their baby at some point it’s a subject that makes society very uncomfortable, but…it is an *amazing* baby calmer! It’s really important that you think about how bedsharing will work and follow some important safety guidelines HERE. Recent media hype would have you believe that bedsharing is dangerous however the research has been incredibly misreported and is highly flawed there is still NO research that shows bedsharing following the guidelines above is a safety/SIDS risk – NONE. Have a read of my piece HERE on bedsharing safety myths.
BabywearingWearing your baby in a sling is one of the ultimate ways to keep them calm and happy. It increases the time a baby spends in a state of “quiet alertness” – a time of contentment when they learn the most. When a baby is in utero they spend 100% of their time in physical contact with us – yet the moment they are born this is estimated to drop to only 40%! Babywearing also means 2 free hands!
Choose your sling carefully. This is a quick guide I put togeter: http://sarahockwell-smith.com/2013/01/01/how-to-choose-the-right-sling-or-carrier-for-you-and-your-baby/ A good sling will be easy to use and will support both yours and your baby’s spine whilst not placing any pressure on your baby’s growing hips – newborns should always be carried facing inwards with a “frog leg” pose, not a crotch dangle pose so commonly used by commercial baby carriers. Also seek to carry in an ‘in arms’ position – i.e: how your baby would be held if you were holding them! This great picture from JePorteMonBebe highlights this newborn hold position perfectly.
My favourite slings for the first 6 months are the Hana Baby Wrap and the Moby Wrap. Babywearing is a great way for dads to bond with babies too!
It is quite common for a baby to cry once placed in a sling, this does not mean that they hate the sling – it just means that you need to move, so get dancing!
As with swaddling,babywearing is becoming increasingly popular, however there are important safety guidelines to be followed, the TICKS acronym below neatly sums them all up:
Position: The “tiger in the tree” position below, taken from baby yoga, is often magical, stopping a crying baby in an instant! More on this HERE.
Noise: Babies love sound, but for many not the sound you might think. For many babies a hoover is much more calming to a baby than a lullaby. A white noise CD such as the one by BabyCalm HERE or from Amazon can be played on loop whilst your baby sleeps to help keep them calm.
Feed: If your baby is hungry nothing will calm him, so watch for his hunger cues. Feeding is always better if it is baby led, not led by a routine – whether you are breast or bottle feeding. Remember as well that your baby may not always be hungry for a full feed, they may want a quick drink, a quick snack or just some comfort sucking. Babies also find sucking the ultimate relaxation and comfort tool. Sucking helps a baby’s skull bones to return to their normal position after birth as well as providing them with comfort and security. If you are not breastfeeding you might find your baby will relax when given a dummy/pacifier. Your baby is by far the best guide for beginning a feeding routine, not the timings of an ‘expert’ who has never met your baby!!
Deep Bathing: The womb is a wet, warm place. The world as we know it is dry and cold! Sometimes a nice deep, warm bath can stop a baby’s tears in seconds – even better if mummy or daddy goes in the big bath with baby too as skin to skin contact is a wonderful baby calmer. Bathing with your baby is a wonderful bonding experience for dad too – more on ways dad can bond with baby HERE.
Outside: If all else fails many babies stop crying the minute they hit the open air – I’m not sure if this is because we are usually moving (e.g.: walking over cobbles with the buggy/ bouncing in a sling and the drone and movement of a car) or because of the change in air – but it works!
If you like this article You’ll find a much more in-depth discussion on this idea and ideas to help you cope for the first 6 months of parenthood, including sleep, developmental stages, recovering from birth, routines and coping with colic and cluster feeding in my BabyCalm Book – available from Amazon in the UK or if you’re in the USA you can pre-order the American version released next year in the USA from Amazon.com. If you’re elsewhere you can order with worldwide free delivery from The Book Depository .
Sarah Ockwell-Smith (Mother to Four, Parenting Author and Founder of BabyCalm Ltd)
You can read more of Sarah’s articles HERE.
When my husband and I found out we were expecting, it was the happiest day of our lives. Just the thought of a the new life growing inside of me made me smile all day (despite any morning sickness I may have had).
Naturally, I attended my monthly checkups with my OB with pure excitement. I had a great doctor. He was very friendly and warm, and had been practicing for a very long time so was very knowledgeable about all things birth related and that indeed was a comfort to me.
I was under his care for 8 months but at the end of my term we had decided to move across the country, which would clearly place me under the care of another health care provider.
Throughout my pregnancy, I had done quite a bit of reading. Specifically about birth, and how to best prepare myself mentally and physically for such massive (and daunting) transition into motherhood.
I also really wanted to have a natural childbirth, so I wanted to best prepare myself for what that might entail. In hindsight, no book could really prepare me for what that experience was like, however it did help me feel better prepared.
At our last meeting my OB wished me the best for my big move and although he knew my wish was give birth naturally, he very kindly said “If the pain gets to be too much, just take the epidural”. He was a very kind man, and I didn’t feel that he was disrespecting my wishes to have a natural child birth. I truly felt that he was simply speaking from his experiences as a doctor – that it would just be easier.
When I moved, I was taken under the care of a midwife as I had heard from several of my pre-natal yoga friends that midwives were amazing. So here I was, 8 months pregnant, getting to know my new care giver and preparing for the birth which was coming any day now.
I think what surprised me the most was that my midwife clearly explained to me that her job was to support me in the type of birth that I wanted. Natural or not, at home or in the hospital – it didn’t matter. She was there to support me, as a woman, and to empower my choice to birth my way. We continued to have many in depth conversations about my pregnancy, relationship and covered many topics that had not even been touched on by my doctor. I was impressed.
So the day came where my water broke and we were beginning to labour. While I thought I had wanted a hospital birth, the thought of moving around (especially in and out of a car) was simply no longer appealing.
“You can do this here?” I believe was my exact sentence.
It wasn’t an easy birth. It took over 24 hours for everything from start to finish. But I feel like having gone through the process I was enlightened with how my body works and felt honored to experience what my body was truly made to do.
However, I think there is something that everyone should know about natural childbirth – one that isn’t spoken about – or at least one that I have never heard before going through it firsthand. Sure, you hear that it will be hard, but that (in favorable circumstances) you can do it.
There was a point in my labour when my body hadn’t quite caught up with my labour pains. That is, my natural pain relief that my body would produce to assist me in this transition hadn’t quite shown up yet.
It was a “little late for the party”, let’s say.
I remember distinctly looking at my midwife who told me, my body would very shortly catch up and provide me with some level of “pain relief” and I would soon drift off to “labour land”.
I remember thinking that this woman is clearly ……nuts.
I wanted to run away from my body and the immense amount of pain I was feeling.
It was basically at the point where I just didn’t think I could do this naturally and had to go to the hospital, that thankfully, my body FINALLY had shown up to the party.
I remember at certain points not even being able to discern sentences being spoken to me as my body had started to produce such a high level of natural pain relief that I felt “stoned”. There was a massive transition and shift in how my body was handling the process of childbirth.
My midwife was right. I had held on long enough for my body to catch up.
Before going through it myself I had never heard of this in between stage where you are starting to panic but that natural relief is on its way. I had read so many books about child birth and no matter how many sources I had referenced, I had never been told this one piece of information.
“Your body will catch up”.
To this day I am still completely impressed at our body’s natural way to deal with pain relief. After all, most modern medicine is formulated to imitate our body’s natural capabilities.
I was so proud an elated when I managed to deliver my child naturally. This was without a doubt, the most difficult thing I had endured, yet the most proud and rewarding moment of my life.
If you are hoping to give birth naturally, I hope that you can take this piece of information to assist you through your labour. This knowledge allowed me to successfully give birth a second time naturally as I had trust in the process and in my body.