In addition to preventing developmental trauma, the nature of the birthing process has profound effects on a child’s development. The research of Klaus and Kennell (1976), who popularized the word “bonding,” created the first scenario for optimal birthing conditions. According to their findings, the nude newborn should be placed on the mother’s chest near her breast immediately after birth. Then infants should be allowed to find the breast on their own and begin nursing.
Klaus (1995) found that babies who were placed on their mother’s chest and engaged in extended mutual eye contact could find their mother’s breast within a short time. The newborn’s sense of smell helps them accomplish this important task. Dr. Lennart Righard of Sweden (1992) has produced incredible videotape, Deliver Self-Attachment, showing a newborn making this trek up his mother’s body to breastfeed.
The umbilical cord should not be cut until the umbilical blood separates, with part flowing into the mother and the other part into the child. This is the final piece of the child’s physical birth experience. Ideally, the mother is awake enough to participate in this important event. Many mothers, unfortunately, are drugged and unable to actively participate.
Research by Marshall Klaus (1995) and his colleagues regarding conditions for optimal maternal/infant bonding recommends extended skin-to-skin contact during the first 36 hours after birth, suckling during the first hour following birth, and “rooming in” arrangements that keep the parents and child together. When these conditions were present at birth, Klaus found a marked drop in early child abuse.
One study from a hospital in Thailand, quoted by Klaus (1995), indicated that the presence of these procedures at birth reduced the number of abandoned babies from 33 to 1. Klaus also found that babies cry when they are taken away from their mothers during the first 90 minutes after birth, but do not cry if kept together during this time period.
The Importance of Birthing Positions
Some hospitals are now installing large water tanks so that mothers can give birth underwater, which is a remarkable innovation. Underwater birthing has been practiced for since the 1970s years in France and Russia and appeared more recently in California. This procedure makes sense because a child lives in water while in the womb.
Water birth is also a natural way to give birth, as it allows the mother to deliver in a squatting position. This allows the forces of gravity and support of the water to assist in the birth process. The worst possible delivery position for a mother is on her back with her feet up in the air. In most “primitive” societies, women squat to give birth.
The Importance of the Care of the Mother During the Birthing Process
A doula is a birth assistant whose job is to care for the mother during the labor and delivery (Klaus, Kennell, & Klaus, 1993). These trained birth assistants focus on the mother’s needs while the midwife or medical assistants focus on the infant’s needs. Doulas typically begin their work with the family during the prenatal period, preparing everyone for the birth process.
They provide emotional support for mothers during the labor period if they get discouraged or scared and physical support through massage and holding. Doulas are trained to help the mother stay focused on their connection with the baby and attend to the signals the child is sending to the mother so that she can maintain emotional synchrony with the child during the birthing process. Doulas also help parents maximize the bonding period immediately following birth. Every mother should have a doula before, during, and immediately after the birth of their child.
In Great Britain, for example, each mother is automatically assigned a personal doula when she checks into the birthing clinic. This became an accepted practice because it reduced the mother’s hospital stay. The research revealed fewer Cesarean births and fewer birth complications, making the use of doulas an economic issue in Britain’s socialized medical system.