To read my introduction to attachment parenting, look here.
The first attachment parenting principle is called Birth Bonding, that is to say, taking the first opportunity at birth to bond with your baby. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to do it. Dr. Sears assures parents that bonding at birth just gives you a head start -- it's not like you'll never bond with your baby if you don't do it instantly at birth!
However, the bonding instincts are strongest then. If all goes well, oxytocin, the bonding and labor-contraction hormone, is at a peak in mom. Baby recognizes mom's smell because the amniotic fluid smells the same. If both are completely unmedicated, the baby will sometimes be able to scootch right up the mom's body and latch on to nurse without any assistance at all! How cool is that? There are 17 different reflexes that help them to do this.
Getting an unmedicated birth is harder. Epidurals seems like the wonder drug, blocking all of mom's pain without entering the baby's bloodstream! However, they do cause problems all the same. First, they tend to stall labor, often necessitating the use of pitocin, which can put the baby into distress and prompt a c-section. Also, they can cause mom's blood pressure to drop, which can cause baby's blood pressure to drop -- again, putting him into distress and possibly prompting a c-section. To counteract the blood pressure decrease, a saline IV is given. This, however, causes mom and baby both to retain fluid. As baby loses the fluid, he loses a lot of his birth weight and scares the doctors! They insist on formula supplementation which isn't necessary. Another problem is that women with epidurals will often run a slight fever. This isn't actually a problem, except that you can't tell whether that's from the epidural or from an infection -- so the baby will be separated at birth, placed under observation, and given antibiotics, "just in case."
So, an epidural isn't risk-free. Narcotics are even worse because these are transmitted to the baby, making him sleepy and unresponsive. But going without meds is hard, too. Labor is painful, especially in a hospital environment where you are confined to bed (I should know!). It's even more painful when labor augmentation is given, such as Pitocin, to increase the contractions -- a very common procedure when doctors prefer faster labors and worry about labors that go "too long."
That's the reason I went without drugs -- not because I wanted to be a hero, get a medal, feel good about myself, or get this legendary "birth high." Many women, however, do have intense happy feelings with a natural birth, and look back on their birth experiences proudly.
The one really important thing I wanted for my labor was the one thing I didn't get: to hold my baby right away after birth. I knew how important it was, and besides, I felt like after all that work I would deserve to be the first to hold that baby! Unfortunately the doctor wanted his lungs to be suctioned out after birth because she was a little worried, and unfortunately I agreed instead of arguing. So it was about 30 or 40 minutes after the birth that I got him. I spent that time getting yanked at, pushed at, and stitched, while the baby spent it getting suctioned, bathed, and swaddled under bright lights, so neither of us were at our best when I finally held him. He no longer had my scent on him, so he had no way of knowing I was his mother. His limbs were wrapped tightly in blankets so he couldn't find his way to the breast. He squinted and then closed his eyes because the lights were so bright. I really wish all that could have been different.
Monkeys who deliver by c-section will refuse to recognize their babies as their own. And we all know not to touch a baby bird, or its mother might abandon it. Luckily people have reason and can work around all these interferences. But it makes it so much easier when you clear away everything that gets in the way of the first instincts.
This news story shows even more clearly the importance of immediate contact between mother and baby after birth. A premature baby, pronounced dead by doctors, revived after being held by his mother. Newborns can go into a state of withdrawal when removed from their mother and placed in a foreign environment (like a warming table). Reunion with the mother returns the baby to a normal state.
I'll talk more later about how a mother's body is the perfect habitat for a baby. Suffice it to say for now that immediately after birth, babies' temperature, breathing, and heartbeat are all regulated better by contact with the mother (or father) than by any warming bed or isolette invented. Yet doctors are still putting babies in isolettes, even when medical procedures could be done while the baby is held in its mother's arms. Most hospitals' policy is far behind the most current science, but stories like that of the Oggs are helping to turn this around.
Immediate contact of mother and baby after birth is not a luxury to be waived as soon as something goes wrong, but an essential, especially in medical emergency. It's the best emotional start for a secure mother-child bond, but it's also the best physical start for a healthy baby.