I wish I could say I chose a midwife after careful planning and research.
In reality, it was because I dislike needles and I had heard midwives tend to use fewer, and also because their patients are less likely to have epidurals.
Although I didn’t have a major ‘ah-ha’ moment that led me to midwifery care, I’m now incredibly thankful I chose that route.
Why? Because my first birth experience affected my entire parenting journey.
Birth isn’t simply a one day experience. Birth has an impact on a woman, her baby and the entire family unit for years to come.
We can’t control all aspects of how birth unfolds but we can influence many of the variables.
Choosing an independent midwife didn’t guarantee my birth would unfold in a particular way, but it was one of many choices that affected how my life as a parent would begin.
5 Ways Your Birth Experience Can Affect Your Parenting
Birth has a short and a long term physiological impact on both mother and baby.
The physical and emotional effects of birth can influence a baby’s temperament and how a mother is able to parent.
Here are 5 ways in which birthing choices matter, and how they affect your parenting:
#1: Prenatal Care Influences Your Choices
We can’t understand the influence of birth without looking first at prenatal care. Many women choose their maternity care provider based on convenience of location, availability, or the recommendation from someone they know.
Prenatal care has a significant impact on how women give birth. The provider you choose for your pregnancy care will directly affect how your birth unfolds. The location you choose for giving birth will directly affect your birth experience, bonding and breastfeeding.
If a mother sees a provider who simply weighs her, checks her heart rate, and tells her all looks well, how will this influence her birth?
On the other hand, a mother might see a provider who asks how she’s feeling, and what plans she has for the birth. She is given resources about nutrition, education to prepare her for breastfeeding and a referral for comprehensive childbirth education. How will this experience influence her birth?
Which mother is likely to feel confident as she begins her parenting journey? Which mother is likely to feel she’s an active participant in her birth? Which mother goes into parenting feeling capable of making informed decisions for herself and her baby?
Whether a mother has an unmedicated birth or a scheduled c-section often isn’t the most important factor in having a positive birth experience rather than a negative one.
Some of the biggest factors in how a mother perceives birth are whether or not she felt part of the decision making process, and how she was cared about and heard.
To learn more about the influence of prenatal care, be sure to read Choosing A Maternity Care Provider if you’re in the US.
If you’re in Australia, read Maternity Care Options For Australian Women
#2: Birth Has Lasting Physical Effects For Mothers
A woman’s body is designed to give birth. Although birth is a natural physiological process that often unfolds well, it can have lasting effects on the body.
This is why it is vital to choose a care provider who follows evidence-based maternity care. The position in which a mother gives birth, the use of medications, and management during the pushing stage can all have a big impact on how a woman feels after birth.
If a mother experiences pelvic floor damage, is given an episiotomy or has a c-section birth, her physical recovery is likely to be painful, and will take longer than that of a woman who doesn’t experience as many physical side effects.
How do physical effects influence parenting choices?
The physical impact of a difficult recovery can make breastfeeding and bonding more challenging. If a woman is unable to be as active as she wants to be she might feel less confident about her role as a new mother.
Sometimes, even when evidence-based choices are made, a woman has a physically difficult birth. Or the birth unfolds quite well, but her body still experiences side effects. In these situations, having a supportive care provider, prenatal education, and adequate postpartum support can help a woman heal and feel confident in parenting regardless of how her birth unfolded.
Feeling confident and supported as you start your life as a parent can have a lasting impact on how you parent for years to come.
I had a straightforward midwifery attended birth. Unfortunately, I still experienced some lasting physical side effects. Proper support and prenatal education, however, helped me feel confident as a parent and able to continue with my plans to breastfeed and bond with close contact.
Birth is also a complex physiological process with many hormones involved. When we use birth interventions, we interfere with the complex hormones involved in birth, the immediate postpartum period, and breastfeeding.
Many birth interventions interfere with how we release oxytocin, which is one of several hormones involved in labour. It’s responsible for triggering labour contractions, and helps to expel the placenta after birth. It also affects how we bond with our babies after birth, and can affect breastfeeding and mental health.
You can learn more about Oxytocin by reading Oxytocin – 15 Fascinating Facts About The Love Hormone.
#3: Birth Has Lasting Effects For Babies
As tiny and dependent beings, babies aren’t always given proper acknowledgement for their role in the birth process.
“Everyone is radiant with happiness. Everyone except the child. The child? You hadn’t even noticed the child, had you?”
These are powerful words from French obstetrician and author, Fredrick Leboyer, as he describes a picture of a mother, father, obstetrician and newborn.
Birth can be intense for babies. Medications, mother’s positioning and surgical procedures all have an impact on a baby. In some situations, a traumatic birth can have long-lasting effects.
In some cases, the benefits of medication or a c-section birth outweigh the short and long term effects a baby might experience. However, outside of medically necessary interventions, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons in relation to the baby.
It’s surprising, but the baby isn’t always considered when we make birth decisions.
How does baby’s birth experience affect your parenting?
A newborn who’s recovering from physical discomfort might either be extremely fussy or, on the other hand, very docile; this making bonding and breastfeeding challenging. A particularly fussy baby might influence how a mother approaches parenting; she might finding it more demanding and change her desired parenting style as a result.
To learn more, be sure to read Why Baby’s Birth Experience Matters – 5 Things You Need To Know.
#4: Birth Can Have Lasting Psychological Effects For Mothers
Birth is an experience that affects a woman forever. The effects vary significantly, but most women carry their birth experiences, at least to some extent, for the rest of their lives.
When birth is particularly traumatic, or when a woman feels unsupported throughout the process (even if the birth unfolded beautifully) it can have a lasting negative impact on her mental health.
You can read more in Birth Trauma – What Is It And How Can I Get Support?.
Mental health influences all areas of our parenting. If affects our ability to bond, to have patience and to remain resilient through everything that motherhood throws at us. This isn’t to say a struggle with mental health or a traumatic birth will mean you can’t bond. But it could mean bonding and motherhood will require more effort and awareness if you are to parent in the way you want to.
10-20% of women experience postpartum depression, and possibly even more experience postpartum anxiety. Although this can occur regardless of how birth unfolds, we often see a connection between postpartum mental health problems and traumatic birth and lack of support.
#5: Birth Has An Impact On Others
While birth obviously affects a mother and baby, it also has an impact on fathers and other people in the family. A father who is encouraged to be an active participant in the pregnancy and birth, and who learns during the prenatal period what to expect and how to support his partner, is likely to have a smoother transition into his new role as father than someone who is unsure how to be involved.
A father can also experience secondhand trauma if his partner experiences a difficult birth. When I gave birth to my preemie, I knew what to expect, given my line of work and my love of research. However, it didn’t dawn on me to make sure my husband was also prepared.
We had experienced four previous out of hospital births in calm settings. A preemie birth, however, is vastly different.
After our daughter was born, resuscitated and stabilised, she was whisked off to the NICU. The only thing I remember my husband saying that day was, “There were 16 people in the room. There were so many people”. He even needed time to himself to process the experience.
Despite the high-risk nature of the birth, it wasn’t very traumatic for me because I knew what to expect, and had wonderful midwifery support. My partner didn’t understand his role in a chaotic, medicalised birth and it had a big impact on how he was able to support me and our daughter in the NICU.
Fortunately, he was already an experienced father and understood how to be involved with our kids. Had this been his first birth experience and first child, the impact of witnessing a traumatic birth could have greatly influenced his role as father in the home. It might also have affected the way he supported me during the postpartum period.
A traumatic birth influences mothers, fathers, babies, siblings and even grandparents. Birth isn’t simply a one-day experience that ends as soon as baby is born. It’s important for parents to make informed decisions and for maternity care providers to practise evidence-based care to reduce the risks of physical and psychological effects.
Traumatic births aside, even a birth that unfolds beautifully can have lasting impacts. Being aware of how birth affects us can help prepare us, so we can still meet our parenting goals or adjust them, as needed.