Many mothers express frustration in caring for babies who seem to do nothing but eat, sleep, and cry. New moms feel bored, overwhelmed, frustrated, and disconnected. By the end of a day spent caring for a newborn, it can often seem as if our brains have taken a permanent leave of absence. But does it really have to be this way? Surely God didn’t intend it to be so difficult for us to connect with our infants. Surely there must be a way for us to truly enjoy our babies, as opposed to simply tolerating them until they reach toddlerhood. Can those of us who are not “baby people” learn to truly enjoy our babies? According to Dr. Linda Folden Palmer, the answer is “yes,” and it may be easier than we think.
Most of us have heard of oxytocin, otherwise known as the “love hormone.” It is the chemical in a mothers brain responsible for promoting the mothers “maternal feelings and behaviors, and her tendency to bond” (1). Just before the birth of a baby, levels of oxytocin receptors in the mothers brain increase, making a new mother highly responsive to the presence of oxytocin. During labor, oxytocin levels increase to encourage uterine contractions, and elevate further when the baby is passed through the birth canal. When a birth takes place naturally, the oxytocin level is extremely high in the mother at the moment the baby is born, and continues to rise until about 45 minutes after birth. Incredibly, if nursing does not occur within 45 minutes of birth, levels of oxytocin drop to their pre-labor level. If a mother does nurse her child, however, her body will continue to produce elevated levels of this “love hormone,” and it will remain high for several months. It has also been shown that a “live-in-father’s oxytocin levels rise toward the end of his mate’s pregnancy” (2). So, carrying a child to term, having a natural childbirth, and breastfeeding within the first 45 minutes are all factors in how we will bond with our babies. But it doesn’t end there…
“Once the initial imprinting has occurred in the first days of the infant’s life, it will persist, but it can fade over time without continued involvement” (3). In continuing to breastfeed and maintain body contact between Mom, Dad, and Baby, we can maintain these high levels of oxytocin, thus continuing the bond between parents and Baby. This is especially important for the father, as he is not an active participant during breastfeeding, the time when most parent-to-child bonding takes place. “The father who is physically involved with his infant will become more and more attracted to the child, enjoying strong paternal feelings and becoming more in tune with the mother as well” (4).
You see, God gave each one of us the inborn capacity not only to love our children, but to enjoy our children. For those who do not normally enjoy babies, this is good news, because God has given our bodies the ability to form an emotional bond with our babies, based on our physical interactions with them. In other words, physical connection can lead to emotional connection. Unfortunately, in modern times, these natural processes are often interrupted by relatively new developments. Rather than home birthing, the vast majority of us have our babies in the hospital where he or she is whisked away immediately after birth to spend time in the nursery away from Mom and Dad. Things like electronic swings and bouncy seats meet our babies when we bring them home, and the lack of family support often makes it more difficult for Mom to spend time with her baby. So what are some simple things we can do that might help us enjoy our babies more? Here are some things that have helped me:
1.) Natural Childbirth. For obvious reasons, I feel that home birthing provides unparalleled benefits when it comes to a truly natural childbirth and the ability to bond with the newborn after birth. However, if you plan to have your baby in the hospital, talk to your doctor and the hospital staff before hand and let them know your desires regarding the birth. Work out a birthing plan with your doctor that you both can agree upon, and talk to the hospital staff about allowing you to room-in with your baby. Request that they allow you to feed your baby as soon as he is born, and that they not give him supplementary bottles while he’s in the nursery. The first hours of your baby’s life are the most crucial, so don’t be afraid to make demands!
2.) Breastfeeding for as long as possible. Among many other benefits, breastfeeding increases a woman’s level of the “love hormone” and helps us to bond more strongly with our babies.
3.) Holding the baby. Body contact helps to maintain high levels of oxytocin in both the parent and the infant. This is especially important for fathers, who do not have the benefit of breastfeeding. Busy moms (and Dads!) can invest in a carrier (or several) and “wear” their baby during times when it’s difficult to sit and hold him.
4.) Sleeping with the baby. Sleeping with Baby provides a full 6-8 hours of uninterrupted contact between Mom, Dad, and Baby. I recognize that many people are afraid to sleep with their babies, however the danger of co-sleeping is negligible compared to that of separate bedrooms, especially for those infants who are breast fed (click here to learn more about the link between breastfeeding and safe co-sleeping.) Many major studies have linked separate bedrooms to SIDS, and in cultures where infants “sharing the bed and nursing are the norm, SIDS rates have always been quite low” (5). If sleeping with your baby is a major concern for you, or if you plan to bottle feed (which can put babies at higher risk when co-sleeping) you might want to consider investing in co-sleeper. There are many of them on the market, but this link will take you to one of the more popular ones. I, personally, love to sleep this way, as I can be close to my baby without the fear of harming him. It also makes night feedings much easier.
5.) Learn more about babies. When my first daughter was born, I knew absolutely nothing about babies. I’m ashamed to look back to see how ill-prepared I was for her birth. I’d never read a single book on parenting and never spent time with friends who had babies. I didn’t pick the brains of older women who were successful parents, or ask advice from younger women who enjoyed their own babies. As a consequence, the first few months with my first child were miserable for all of us. I overfed her in the beginning, and then severely underfed her as I tried to put her on a strict schedule. She cried almost nonstop for months… and so did I. I’m convinced that many of these problems could have been avoided if I had educated myself on how to care for her before she came into the world. A good book to start with is Baby Matters, by Dr. Linda Folden Palmer, and a wonderful online resource is the MOMY’S digest (www.momys.com.) This is an online forum for mothers with large families, all of whom have LOTS of experience with babies! I have also written a post on the things that I eventually did learn about babies that I hope will be helpful.
These are just some of the things that have helped me to enjoy my babies more and I’m sure that other moms can offer additional suggestions. If you have any advice to pass along for those of us who are not “baby people,” I’d love to hear it!
1.) Dr. Linda Folden Palmer, Baby Matters; Lucky Press; Lancaster, Ohio, 43130; pg 45
2.) Ibid, pg 49
3.) Ibid, pg 50
4.) Ibid, pg 51
5.) Ibid, pg 92