Mother love is vast and seems like it can cover a great deal of territory – whether you’re talking about the brand new love a mother has for her newborn, the thrill she experiences when her toddler takes her first steps, the mix of emotions when Mom sends her off to kindergarten that first day, or the pride she feels when that child walks across the stage to receive a high school diploma. They grow up fast!
But, as a doula, what I witness most often and care deeply about is that first experience a mother has of falling madly in love with the new little person she holds in her arms for the very first time. And it is part of my job to help make sure those early moments are protected.
I recently acted as doula for a mother who had a very long early labor, and it seemed that her body just did not want to make that move into active labor. We tried many things to help her labor progress, when I finally decided we needed to talk – perhaps something emotional was holding her back. Very quickly, she revealed to me that she feared she would not bond with her baby boy when he arrived. She explained that she had a friend who had trouble bonding with her own baby, and although we don’t know the circumstance or what might have affected her friend, this situation had caused my client a great deal of anxiety. We proceed to have a discussion about her ability to bond and how her birth plans would facilitate the process. Although it still took awhile, her labor did finally progress and she had a beautiful natural birth. After the birth, I worked to protect her bonding experience with her baby by ensuring that several things happened, and she did fall deeply in love with her son.
Many of the things that we did are things that you, too, can do to aid the bonding process with your own baby.
- First and foremost, spend as much time as possible skin-to-skin with your baby, especially during the first hours after birth, but even during the following days. Skin-to-skin helps keep baby warm and regulates baby’s heart rate, blood sugar, and breathing.
- Breastfeed during the first hour after birth. Babies are most alert and ready to eat during this first hour, after that they may become a bit more sleepy and want to doze off when they get snuggled up next to mom.
- Delay administration of prophylactic eye ointment until the end of the first hour, if you choose to have it used at all. Tennessee state law says that the eye ointment is to be administered within the first hour, but you can ask to have it at the end of that hour because it will affect baby’s eyesight, and babies use their eyesight for bonding.
- Sing to your baby or at least read a book. Begin singing a favorite song to your baby while s/he is still in the womb, and don’t worry that you don’t have a great singing voice – babies don’t care, they just want to hear your voice. After birth, continue to sing the same song – there have been some small studies that have shown that parents’ singing will calm a fussy baby. And if you really are afraid to sing, pick out a short book to read instead.
- Last, but certainly not least, honor the first hour as family time – and I don’t mean extended family! The first hour after birth is time for mom, dad/partner, and baby to become a family. Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt Sally will all have plenty of time later to cuddle, kiss, and get to know the new little one, but the first hour is not for passing her or him from person to person. If they just have to see the baby, take a great picture and text it – they’ll just have to wait to get their hands on that bundle of joy!
Remembering these five tips will help get bonding off to a great start, and I promise, that mother love will only grow and grow!