The Conscious Baby Birth Initiative
Thanks to the pioneers of prenatal and perinatal psychology, we are gaining awareness of how birth profoundly imprints itself on our lifelong 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. Chamberlain concludes,
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.
Physically, an emerging newborn is well aware of his or her environment during the birth. Most senses are well developed in the full-term newborn and have developed many weeks before birth. During birth a child is capable of hearing, touching, tasting and smelling everything around him or her. Some suspect that the newborn’s senses are more keen than the senses of adults’ present during birth. Leboyer states that birth is “a sensory experience so vast (for the newborn) we can barely conceive of it” (1975, p. 15).
Care Of The Sense
Leboyer (1975) brought light to 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 without shock. Hearing – Likewise, a baby is used to hearing sounds that are muffled by flesh and fluid so speech should be soft and noises should be kept to a minimum. Tasting – If possible, nothing should be placed in the newborn’s mouth before he or she has a chance to breastfeed. Babies are prepared for and expecting to taste their mother’s breast milk soon after birth. Imposing bottles or syringes on them during the perinatal period is invasive and detrimental to bonding. Smelling – Babies are precisely 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 touch (Leboyer, 1975). Through touch we communicate love, fear, tenderness, violence, confidence, ineptitude, etc. With that in mind how might we handle the newborn? 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 (1998) yields proof that babies are learning in utero. More and more parents are talking to, playing music for and bonding with their unborn babies. 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 (1988) describes the story of Stewart an adult patient who grew up believing he was a “difficult kid” and “not normal like the regular children.” When he was regressed back to his birth during a psychotherapy session he discovered the source of these core beliefs about himself. During his labor, the doctor became angry and frustrated that Stewart was not “dropping” into the birth canal. Subsequently, the doctor told Stewart’s mother that she had a “stubborn child” who was “difficult” and “would be late for everything” (1988, p. 4). When we gain access to the sources of our core beliefs therapeutically, often 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 emotions 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 and 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 a profound transition and can be 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 their own” (McCarty, 1996, p. 25). Above all, the birthing environment should be filled with love, joy and reverence for the newborn child.
The Effects Of Drugs On The Newborn
Through a monumental review of the literature, Brackbill (1985) concluded that drugs administered during labor and delivery significantly effect the infant’s behavior. Some of the known effects of drugs on the baby are listed by Simkin (1991): Abnormal fetal heart rate, interference with normal newborn reflexes, inhibited sucking response, difficulty with breathing and excessive drowsiness.
Of 59 published studies, not one found any beneficial effect of anesthetic medication on the infant (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 with great caution and parent and the babies should be informed of the possible effects of the drugs.
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 outcome of a whole series of events that are somatic, neurophysiological and psychological in nature” (p. 18). It is therefore, essential that babies remain with their mothers immediately after birth so bonding can begin.
Upon delivery, and before the child is take away from the mother for bathing, weighing and 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 yet seeing each other for the first time. Shortly after birth the child enters a 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 describes 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 their 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. During this time the infant is moving and resting throughout the climb. 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 to the areola and baby latches on to the areola and begins to nurse (Klaus, Kennell and Klaus, 1995).
As noted above, new mothers 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 claming effect on the mother and naturally increases mother’s affinity towards her baby (Klaus, Kennell and 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 most 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 one dramatic way to make this leap is to change how babies are treated during and immediately after birth. Based on some of the ideas presented above, I can envision a document which outlines eveidence-based ways we can create the optimal birth setting for all new people. Perhaps it will be called ‘The Conscious Baby Birth Initiative.’
Brackbill, Y. (1985). Medication in Maternity. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
Chamberlain, D.B. (1986). Reliability of birth memories: Evidence from mother and child pairs in hypnosis. Journal of American Academy of Medical Hynoanalysis, 1(2), 89-98.
Chamberlain, D.B. (1988). The significance of birth memories. Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology, 2(4), 208-226.
Castellino, R. (1997). The caregiver’s role in birth and newborn self-attachment needs. Available from Castellino Training Seminars, 1105 N. Ontare, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.
Gaskin, I.M. (1990). Spiritual Midwifery. Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Company.
Jones, C. (1989). From Parent to Child: The Psychic Link. NY: Warner Books.
Klaus, M., Kennell, J. and Klaus, P. (1995). Bonding: Building a Foundation for Secure Attachment and Independence. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Leboyer, F. (1975). Birth Without Violence. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
McCarty, W.A. (1997). What Babies are Teaching Us. Available from Wondrous Beginnings, 5662 Calle Real, #221 Goleta, CA 93117.
Paranthuraamphorn, C. (1998). Prenatal infant stimulation program. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. 12(3&4).
Simkin, P. (1991). Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Van de Carr, F.R. & Lehrer, M. (1998). Prenatal University: Commitment to fetal-family bonding and the strengthening of the family unit as an educational institution. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health. 12(3&4).
Verny, T. (1986). The Secret Life of the Unborn Child. New York, NY: Dell.
Wade, J. (1998). Physically transcendent awareness: A Comparison of the phenomenology of consciousness before birth and after death. Journal of Near-Death Studies. 16(4), 249-275.
Carrie Contey, M.Ed., M.A., has been passionate about birth, babies and parenthood since she was a child herself. She has dedicated her adult life to pursuing the academic study and hands-on art of early parenthood and optimal human development. Currently she is completing her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a focus on prenatal and perinatal psychology at the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute in California. Along with Early Parent Coaching, Carrie is a Certified Whole Person Fertility Specialist as well a Marriage & Family Therapist Intern working with families at Beginnings, Inc. in Los Olivos, CA. Since teaches pre-conception preparation, prenatal parenting and toddler classes locally and nationally.
To learn more about Carrie and the work she is doing please visit www.earlyparenting.com. You can contact Carrie directly via email at [email protected] or by phone at 805-687-2646.