Most people now acknowledge that close physical proximity between mothers and babies during the first hours, days, weeks and even months of life is ideal for both. We know that being skin-to-skin encourages the baby’s oxygen levels to remain stable, that it regulates her temperature, that it encourages bonding between the two, that it stimulates milk production in the mother’s breasts and that babies held skin-to-skin for long periods tend to cry much less often (and have lower levels of stress hormones as a result). We know that breastfeeding on-demand helps both mother and baby adapt to life after birth; that room- and even bed-sharing helps everyone get more sleep, can prevent SIDS and make breastfeeding easier; that picking up a crying baby rather than letting them ‘cry it out’ keeps stress levels low and tends to lead to less anxiety later in life. Basically, the goal in all of these things is to allow the newborn to live outside of the womb in a manner that resembles life in the womb as closely as possible. Human babies are born essentially premature when compared to other mammals. While the calf can walk at birth and the baby chimp can cling to it’s mother’s back while she climbs, human babies are still essentially foetal. Why? Simply put, we walk upright, which affects the size and shape of our pelvic bones and we have big brains, which require large skulls to keep them in. In order for our human skulls to fit through our human pelvises (which they do very well, thank you very much – remember, as Ina May says, “Your body is not a lemon.”) we must be born early relative to other mammals. This works out ok, as long as we are prepared to care for what is essentially a foetus living outside of the womb. Doing so is even more demanding than pregnancy and requires support systems, maternity leaves, lots of encouragement and the ability to pick oneself up again time and time again (i.e. self-compassion). I have written before about the importance of community and social support systems for new parents but today I am thinking about the process of labour and birth and how they affect both mom and baby (or, motherbaby as many people are now referring to newborns and their moms to signify the importance of caring for them as a single entity). We accept that what happens after birth affects both mother and baby, but the evidence also shows that how a mother is treated prenatally and during labour and birth affects both individuals as well. So what does it mean for a hospital to be considered “mother-friendly” or “baby-friendly” and why are these two separate sets of considerations? Continue reading
The Motherbaby Dyad: Can maternity care ever truly be ‘baby-friendly’ without first being ‘mother-friendly’?