“This is the first moment we met each other. I was so overwhelmed and stunned that our baby was here that I hadn’t even picked her up! She is still attached to the cord and the placenta isn’t birthed yet. Before the birth, I had visualised in my head that I would pick her up and cuddle her immediately – but the whole experience took my breath away that I stayed in this position until my lovely Midwife helped me lie down so that I could cuddle our little girl. And I cuddled her for hours.”
Image with ‘modesty edit’ provided by mother – used with permission. Go to Beautiful Birth Facebook page to check out more pregnancy and birth photography
Just like the mother in this image, when I gave birth for the first time (on my hands and knees), I did not want to pick up my baby. Instead I stayed on all fours and looked down to see her sweet, wriggling purple body beneath me and watch her take her first breath. I remember feeling so relieved the birth was over and shocked by the appearance of a new person in the room! It instinctively felt right to pause and watch my baby from above. My instincts to remain upright and leave my baby for the time being would have resulted in a rapid placental transfusion of blood to my baby, as her lungs and other organs transitioned to independent functioning.
(Unfortunately for me and my baby, this moment was short-lived. We were denied a physiological transition and third stage, and any skin contact. The hospital midwives clamped and cut the cord seconds after she was born and separated us for over 30mins – for vigorous suctioning (despite my baby screaming) and ‘removing’ the placenta, before sending me off to shower. I was compliant and didn’t know any better at the time.)
But getting back to the topic of positioning after birth, I have since observed many birth videos where the birth attendant/s determine the position of the baby immediately after birth.
Has anyone else noticed these things happen in some births/ birth videos?
- A mother lies on her back with her baby placed on her stomach or chest (as high as cord length will allow) – while she gazes elsewhere (shocked) and talks to those around her, not yet looking at her baby?
- A mother braces herself to give birth in an upright position, after which her baby is lifted up and placed on her chest before the mother has a chance to free her arms to hold her baby (resulting in some awkward moments)?
- A mother gives birth on all fours, and remains in this position (breathing, moaning, crying, rejoicing, hiding her face) once her baby is born – followed by an instant chorus around her to “move”, “pick up your baby”? – (Sometimes others physically move the woman to lift her head up, move her knees and pick up the baby.)
- A baby is born in water and lifted up to the mother’s chest – but the baby is pale, floppy or has a lot of liquid to clear from the airways. The mother rubs her baby’s back and looks concerned and worried, no longer comfortable in the water? (not a common occurrence)
Given the extensive practice of cord clamping, birth attendants determining the timing and placement of “skin to skin contact” and popularity of water births, most of us have only ever experienced or seen birth with interference (or lifted up quickly out of the water).
I do wonder if more women gave birth without interference (or out of water maybe), would we be more accustomed to seeing mother-directed third stage of labour – where women might have a short rest before attending to her baby – and have a greater appreciation and understanding of physiological fetal-to-neonatal transition?
It is instinct in some mammals to rest in the first 30s-1m or so after birth – leaving the baby undisturbed during placental transfusion. Do we have these same instincts, to be above our babies, to gaze at and touch our babies, to watch them breathe and check the cord…before lifting our babies up??
I know some women interpret their responses and feelings immediately after birth as somehow “not caring about the baby at first”. Some women feel surprised or even ashamed they were not instantly responsive to their newborn. But what if this ‘rest and be thankful’ stage is protective, provides babies with a faster, less complicated transition, and restored blood volume quicker after birth??
Edited Feb 20102 to add link: Waiting to Inhale: How to Unhurry the Moment of Birth, Mary Esther Malloy, MA, CD(DONA), CLC, AAHCC
Please note: the author is not critical of water birth and has given birth in water before. This discussion is about gravity and women responding to instinct – and if their instincts were to ‘lower’ the baby, then being in water will obviously have altered the woman’s behaviour to a degree. However, many women seek to hold their baby to their chest immediately after birth, whether in water or not. And where a baby does requires further support in a waterbirth, this is can be attended to on the mother’s chest or the mother and baby can exit the birth pool (to lower the baby below the placenta/ commence resuscitation).
Homebirth – mother rejoices with baby between legs
Homebirth – undisturbed birth
Practitioner-led birth (warning: includes checking for nuchal cord and excessive force on unborn baby’s head, will distress some viewers)
To read more responses to this article where women discuss gravity, instinct and their experiences, click here
2013 article by Birthjoy.co.uk Birth keeper or Baby catcher discusses mothers catching their own babies