Baby Steps Blog

Loving Environment II

Loving Environment II

This is part two from last weeks blog posting Falling in Love: The New Family

Breastfeeding mothers are often accused of being fanatics (or worse). They are often bewildered over the accusations. Another phrase you sometimes hear is “overly attached.” Why do breastfeeding moms seem so addicted to their babies?

Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a Swedish physician and researcher, noticed personality changes when she was nursing her babies: she felt calmer, more open, and more empathetic. She decided to embark upon a series of experiments to see whether the oxytocin that works so powerfully to help with breastfeeding was also having an effect on her in other ways.
Uvnas-Moberg discovered that oxytocin has almost wondrous qualities. We are all pretty aware of the “flight or fight” feelings that we get from hormones – but oxytocin is a big factor in what is sometimes called the “breed and feed” – rest and relaxation system.

I think a lot about oxytocin’s role during birth. After all, when it’s flowing, we have effective contractions. Doula-attended births usually flow well – is it because the doulas help the oxytocin flow, with their quiet spirits and loving hands? When we hold and stroke our babies, we and our babies spike higher levels of oxytocin.

  • Oxytocin helps babies grow faster – increased nutrient absorption and digestion
  • Improves nutrient absorption & digestion in moms too
  • More socially curious, more interactions
  • Better social memory
  • Bonding (a female animal exposed to a specific male after receiving an injection of oxytocin would prefer that male – out of a group of many eligible males. Think what it will do for a mom and baby!)
  • Interestingly, oxytocin has a two-step effect on stress. The first effect “Oh, that’s exciting” – raises our blood pressure and heart rate. Then we calm down and settle down – and our blood pressure and heart rate goes down as we relax.
  • Oxytocin “turns on” caregiving behavior in males and females
  • We can choose the more peaceful path even when we are pregnant. When making plans for birth, be careful in your choices. Plan to make your birthing room quiet and low-light and safe. Pick people to be with you who make you feel relaxed. Examine your own heart to figure out what makes you feel safe and loved –then plan to get it during your labor and your baby’s birth.

Choose to hold your baby with as much skin-to-skin as you feel comfortable with, as soon as possible after the birth and as often as possible thereafter. If the thought of skin-to-skin with your baby makes you uncomfortable – remember that your baby’s cheek on your cheek is skin-to-skin! (The baby will get heavy so you’ll probably move her down a few inches – but that is just fine.)

Note that “being a breastfeeding mom” isn’t one of the requirements for flowing oxytocin. Moms who meant to breastfeed and ran into problems often tell me that they have to consciously make a decision to spend time stroking their babies. It’s harder to do when you’re holding a bottle instead of just a baby during a feed. All those little grooming behaviors make the oxytocin flow. If you choose to give your baby bottles right from the get-go, plan in some extra loving and grooming time so you and your baby get the benefits of oxytocin.

Include dad in the cuddles: he will benefit from that oxytocin too. If you are cuddling the baby in your arms, ask him to climb into the bed and hold the two of you!

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