Attached At Birth

Attachment style is extremely important and can have life-long implications for an individual’s behaviors and relationships.  Secure attachment between mother and child starts at birth, and it has been shown that Oxytocin, a natural labor-promoting hormone and neurotransmitter, is a “love” hormone that helps mother and child bond prior to childbirth.

I recently watched the documentary The Business of Being Born, which explained that Cesarean section rates in the United States are very high, and labor induction and Cesarean sections are often done for non-medical reasons. Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin used for labor induction) can cause fetal distress, therefore increasing the risk of Cesarean sections.  The documentary pointed out that when Cesarean sections are performed there is not an increased amount the Oxytocin or Pitocin neurotransmitter present in the mother (as it is during labor), which can inhibit immediate bonding/ attachment of mother and child.  In addition, female primates who had Cesarean sections (no Oxytocin or Pitocin), lacked maternal behaviors when interacting with their young. A study at Yale also found that women who had Cesarean sections were less responsive to their baby’s cry, and that mothers who had vaginal deliveries had greater neurological activity in a large number of brain regions when their child cried (Swain et al. 2008). Perhaps these are the areas of the brain with Oxytocin receptors.

If Cesarean sections cause a lack of natural neurological “love hormones,” which could impede attachment, then perhaps doctors should be making a greater effort to avoid Cesarean sections if at all possible. Furthermore, to what extent is attachment hindered, and how easily can it be reestablished? These “love” neurotransmitters, such as Oxytocin, serve an important biological function at birth.  Is it unethical to perform Cesarean sections that are not medically necessary if it hinders healthy attachment and maternal behaviors? Should Pitocin be administered to the mother after a Cesarean section to allow for a more “natural” neurological process? At the very least, expecting mothers should be made aware of the behavioral and psychological effects of Cesarean sections.

Maternal brain response to own baby-cry is affected by cesarean section delivery (Swain et al. 2008)

4 thoughts on “Attached At Birth

  1. I recall reading something a few years ago bout the importance of the fetus traveling through the birth canal. The experience is important or triggering certain physiological and neural processes or some such…. I’ll see if I can find it.


  2. I totally agree with you Ellie, and I think this is a really interesting an important topic. I’ve delved into attachment theory a bit in Tarja’s Child Development course (we even had a lactation consultant come in and chat with us, which was super cool) and knowing how important the birthing process is, especially the first few moments a mother and child spend physically touching, makes me concerned about how modern medicine has altered child labor. Even the use of an epidural, which is so common even in natural child birth, can disrupt the natural process of attachment since the baby often comes out of the womb all doped up and therefore can’t find the breast on it’s own to solidify that first moment of attachment with the skin-to-skin contact. All of these factors make me really excited about the natural child birth movement and how more women are rejecting Cesareans.


  3. I found this article really interesting because I didn’t previously know that C-sections had these behavioral and psychological effects on mothers and their newborns. I especially was surprised by the study that mentioned that women who had Cesarean sections were less responsive to their baby’s cry and mothers who naturally delivered their baby had greater neurological activity in a large number of brain regions when their baby cried. This just shows how powerful the effects of hormones are and also how much more we need to uncover while learning about development. I definitely believe that doctors should bring up this issue when planning with their pregnant patients about how she wants to deliver the baby in order to inform the mother of these negative effects. However, I don’t think it’s unethical to perform C-sections that are not medically unnecessary because no dangerous or potentially fatal damage is being done to either the baby or the mother. Also although there are negative effects on attachment between mother and child caused by hormones, I believe that mothers who had C-sections love and support their children as unconditionally as mothers who had a natural birth. This article has showed how important the natural birth process is, and I am interested in further research in this area.


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