Carrie Contey, M.Ed.
Thanks to the pioneers of pre- and perinatal psychology we are gaining awareness of how birth profoundly imprints itself on our health and behavior. Verny writes, How he is born – whether it is painful or easy, smooth or violent – largely determines who he becomes and how he will view the world around him. Whether he is five, ten, forty or seventy, a part of him always looks at the world through the eyes of the newly born child he once was. (1981, p.97)
In his landmark study, Chamberlain (1986) found that under hypnosis children were able to recall very minute details of their birth experiences. These stories were matched to the reports given by their mothers who were also under hypnosis.
The content of birth memories suggests a sophisticated level of physical, mental and emotional consciousness at birth, beyond anything predicted by developmental psychology. In this light, many routine practices in obstetrics need to be re-evaluated from the baby’s point of view. (1986, p.94)
The purpose of this paper is to suggest ways to facilitate a better birthing experience for all newborns based on the belief that babies are physically, mentally and emotionally conscious at birth.
BABIES ARE CONSCIOUS AT BIRTH
A growing body of experimental, clinical and anecdotal evidence supports the idea that consciousness exists before and during birth. Wade (1998) points out that in regression many people are able to recount incidences that took place long before any significant brain development has occurred. The therapeutic work of Chamberlain, Castellino and Emerson, among others, acknowledges, validates and strives to heal the often-traumatic birth memories individuals of all ages harbor. In September of 2000, I attended my first process workshop facilitated by Ray Castellino. During my two-hour session I was able to re-experience my own non-labor cesarean birth and discover some key information about my physical and emotional states at the time of birth. Finally, I was able to heal a chronic neck pain that was with me my whole life, the result of a birth insult. I was also released some of the emotional felt around being taken from the womb before I initiated labor. If we were not conscious during birth, we would neither remember the events nor need to heal the trauma which occurred.
Physically, an emerging newborn is well aware of his or her environment during birth. All five senses are well developed in the full-term newborn many weeks before birth. During birth a child is seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling everything around him or her. Some suspect that the newborn’s senses are far more heightened than the senses of the adults’ present during birth. Frederick Leboyer states that birth is “A sensory experience so vast we can barely conceive of it” (1975, p.15).
CARE OF THE SENSES
Leboyer (1975) brought to light the elements necessary for welcoming new people gently into the world. Listed below are some suggestions for the birthing environment based on what we know about the senses of new people.
SEEING – Because a baby’s eyes are so sensitive and used to seeing light filtered through mother’s belly, the lights should be dimmed. We must allow baby’s eyes to adjust to the outside world slowly and naturally.
HEARING – Likewise, a baby is used to hearing sounds that are muffled by flesh and fluid so speech should be soft and external noises should be kept to a minimum.
TASTING – Nothing should be placed in the newborn’s mouth before he or she has a chance to breastfeed. Babies are expecting to taste their mothers’ milk soon after birth. Imposing bottles or syringes on them during the perinatal period is invasive and detrimental to bonding.
SMELLING – Babies are sensitive to smells. The birth environment, especially in a hospital setting, can be overwhelming to the olfactory system. We must be mindful of the potency of the natural and non-natural agents used around the baby during birth.
TOUCHING – We speak to the child through our touch (Leboyer, 1975). Through touch we communicate love, fear, tenderness, violence, confidence, ineptitude, etc. So how should the child be handled? Within seconds after birth, mother’s hands should be the hands that welcome her children and reassure them that they made it and they are safe and loved. Anyone else who has contact with the baby should use respectful, loving touch when handling the newborn.
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS
The work of Van de Carr (1988), Manrique (1998) and Panthuraamphorn (1993) yields proof that babies are learning in utero. More and more parents are talking to, playing music for and bonding with their prenates. If babies can learn in utero, one could easily infer that they are learning during birth as well. Not only are prenates taking in the sensations of the birthing environment, they are mentally processing the information and developing patterns of being in the world based on the information gathered. For example, Chamberlain (1987) describes the story of Steward an adult patient who grew up believing he was a “difficult kid” and “not normal like regular children.” When he was regressed back to his birth, he discovered the source of these core beliefs about himself. During his labor, the doctor became angry and frustrated that he was not dropping. Subsequently, the doctor told Steward’s mother that she “had a stubborn child” who was “difficult” and “would be late for everything”. When we gain access to the sources of our core beliefs, we are able to acknowledge and re-pattern the way we exist in the world.
Babies are not only affected by the words said to them during birth but also the emotion surrounding the event as well. In his book, From Parent to Child: The Psychic Link, Jones discusses the telepathic connection between the mother and her unborn child.
The unborn child is affected by what the mother thinks, feels and experiences. Tension in the delivery room can contribute to problems just as much, if not more so, than bacteria. On the other hand, positive thoughts directed to the mother and baby can contribute to a more rewarding experience for both (1989, p.90).
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL CARE
A powerful and positive birth setting is created when everyone in attendance is able to slow down and hold the image of the emerging baby as a conscious, sensitive, aware person who has the innate knowledge of how to be born (McCarty, 1996). Addressing the baby and telling him or her what is happening to both baby and mother during the birth is also important. This is most crucial during any invasive procedures. Through re-birthing and other therapeutic techniques that allow people to re-experience their births, we know that often birth is scary, stressful and painful for the newborn. Verbally reassuring babies that they are safe and supported during their journey can alleviate some of the fear they experience.
Leaving the womb is disorienting and shocking to the system. Once the baby is born, everyone in attendance must be mindful of how they place their attention on the baby. “The more we can learn how to be present, relaxed and centered in our own bodies, the more babies can then stay oriented, connected and present with theirs” (McCarty, 1996, p.25). Above all, the birthing environment should be filled with love, joy and reverence for newborn child.
THE EFFECTS OF DRUGS ON THE NEWBORN
Through a monumental study Brackbill (1985) concluded that drugs administered during labor and delivery significantly affects the infant’s behavior. Some of the known effects of drugs on the baby are: Abnormal fetal heart rate, interference with normal newborn reflexes, inhibited sucking response, difficulty with breathing and excessive drowsiness (Simkin, 1991). When I was regressed back to my birth I was overwhelmed by a heavy, cloudy sensation that made me want to fall asleep. It was clear that I was reliving the effects of the anesthesia that my mother received prior to my birth. I made a conscious effort to stay awake during the process, but it was not easy. My breathing was labored, and it was difficult to move my limbs. Several times I broke into hysterical laughter brought on by the nitrous oxide my mother inhaled. I laughed but the emotions inside were fear and anger. Not having control over my body or emotional state was very disconcerting. Of 59 published studies not one found any beneficial effect of medication on the prenate (Brackbill, 1985). From the perspective of the child there should be no drugs used during labor and delivery. Since there are situations when drugs are necessary such as cesarean deliveries, they should be used cautiously and parents and the babies themselves should be well informed of the effects of the drugs.
It is essential that babies remain with their mothers immediately after birth so bonding can begin. Bonding is the process by which a secure attachment is formed which ensures the continued care necessary for survival of the new child. Bonding is the original and immediate connection between mother and baby (Gaskin, 1990). Both newborn and mom are instinctually prepared for and expecting to bond face-to-face, skin-to-skin and mouth-to-breast immediately after birth and for the next several months. According to Castellino (1997), “Healthy bonding and attachment are the outcomes of a whole sequence of events that are somatic, neurophysiological and psychological in nature” (p.18).
Upon delivery, and before the child is taken away from the mother for bathing weighing or other interventions, he or she should be placed naked on the mother’s abdomen. In that position the child smells her smell, feels her warmth and hears her voice. Once again, they are together and seeing each other for the first time. Shortly after birth the child enters the quiet alert state. During this time the newborn is very still, often molded to the mother’s abdomen, but able to see, hear and respond to their new environment. At this time most mothers coo at and stroke their babies.
For the next hour, if the surroundings are calm, and the baby received no pain medication via the mother during labor, he or she will begin a process called delivery self-attachment. Delivery self-attachment is a newborn’s ability to find their way to the mother’s breast, latch on and begin suckling (Castellino, 1997). The four-part delivery self-attachment sequence is as follows: For the first 30 minutes, the newborn remains in the quiet alert state looking up at the mother and observing the new environment. Between 30 and 45 minutes, the lips begin smacking and the infant begins to drool. With support under the feet, the baby begins to inch forward towards the breast. When the infant reaches the level of the mother’s breast he or she will begin rooting around for the nipple. Finally, between 45 and 60 minutes the baby latches on the areola and begins to nurse (Klaus Kennell, Klaus 1995).
As noted above, all new moms are equipped with bonding instincts as well. For example, early nipple stimulation by the newborn during breastfeeding releases a hormone called oxytocin, which is responsible for naturally contracting the uterus and reducing blood flow as well as signaling milk let-down. Subsequently, each time the baby nurses, mom’s oxytocin level increases which has a calming effect on the mother and naturally increases mother’s affinity towards her baby (Klaus, Kennell, Klaus, 1995). In essence the bonding system is set up so that nurturing begets nurturing.
No longer can society afford to ignore the consciousness of the newborn and the detrimental effects of our current methods of birthing. We must honor and respect the birthing process and yield to the innate wisdom of the newborn. I am strongly committed to working towards raising humanity to the next level of evolution. I know that our only hope for such a leap is to change how babies are treated during birth. I envision, based on some of the ideas presented above, a document which outlines evidence-based ways we can create the optimal birth setting for all new people. Perhaps it will be called ‘The Conscious Baby Birth Initiative.”