When there is a difficult birth, when things go unexpectedly or there is trauma involved for the mother, it is not just the mother (and partner) who is affected. The babies being brought into the world in these circumstances are also affected, and this can impact the bond between parent and child.
Our birth and postpartum doulas have experience helping families through difficult births, including NICU support. Here are some of our best tips for working through and healing from a difficult birth experience and getting a good relationship going from the start, no matter the circumstances:
Talk to Your Baby
If things are going unexpectedly during the pregnancy or labor, talk to your baby even in the womb. Tell him or her what is going on and that mommy and daddy are doing their best to keep everyone safe and make good decisions. Tell the baby how much you love him or her. If an intervention occurs during the birth that is unwanted, recognize that the decision to have this intervention was made not out of a weakness or failure on your part, but out of your love for your baby. It may not have been what you pictured as ideal for you or your baby, but it WAS done out of love and protection of your baby, and sometimes love leads us to making difficult decisions.
Send Your Love with Your Baby
If your baby has to spend time away from you after the birth, imagine sending the gift of your love off with your baby. You may not be able to be there physically, but that doesn't mean your baby cannot sense your love for him or her. Sometimes even sending a small stuffed animal, or a receiving blanket that has your sent on it can be a tangible reminder to you and your baby. If you do send a receiving blanket off with your baby, consider swapping blankets with your baby each day, so that he or she can have one with your scent, and you can always have one with his or her scent during the times you are apart.
Make a Physical Connection
When you are able, touch your baby. Hold and stroke him or her. Smell him or her. Get skin-to-skin if possible. Even if you cannot do this immediately at the birth, it doesn't make it any less powerful to stop and savor the moment when it DOES finally occur. Spending lots of time skin-to-skin is especially powerful for bonding, as well as for physical healing for a newborn.
Tell the Story
Look at the baby right in the eyes and tell him or her what you wanted to say right after the birth. Tell him or her the story- what happened at their birth and what you had WISHED would have happened. You might also look in to having a Birth Reclaiming Ceremony when you feel up to it, and it is cleared by your care provider. This can be a lovely way to connect with your baby, and take the time to both mourn what was difficult, and celebrate what you love.
Seek Additional Support & Self-Care
Seek out additional counseling and support if necessary. And know that it is OK if you do need the extra support after a difficult birth. A postpartum doula has training and skills to help you not just logistically after the birth, but to help you process and heal, mentally and physically. She can also help you with breastfeeding if desired, or pumping and bottle feeding. She can help you to take care of yourself: giving you the tools and space to eat, drink, exercise, and sleep so that you can heal too.
If you have had a difficult birth and would like to share what helped you to heal and bond with your baby afterward, or if you happen to know of another great tip please share!