. However, certain birth experiences seem to have a negative effect on breastfeeding, for example, having a caesarean-section
or labour medications (including epidurals, pitocin, and the various medication used to induce labour)
(though it is important to note that hospitals who show a commitment to breastfeeding show no difference in breastfeeding success with respect to the use of epidurals
). Furthermore, the possible negative effects on breastfeeding can have further reaching effects as failure to successfully breastfeed (when intended) has been linked with higher risk for postpartum depression
. In a more general sense, maternal and infant stress during labour and delivery have also been associated with delayed lactation
While breastfeeding provides a very specific example of the effects of the birth experience, the more general problem associated with a negative birth experience is to do with postpartum depression. In research on the factors that predict postpartum depression, a negative birth experience and separation from the infant (typically associated with a negative birth experience, such as in an emergency c-section) continue to be major predictors of PPD
. In one study, women who experienced high levels of obstetric interventions and who were unhappy with their care during labour were most likely to develop trauma symptoms in line with postpartum depression and trauma. What is the effect of postpartum depression on an infant? Well, infants with mothers who suffer PPD have worse attachment relationships with their infants
, their children show worse cognitive outcomes later in life
, greater behavioural problems , and worse emotional development. Not to mention that these children also show greater cortisol reactivity to stressful situations
and other neurological abnormalities
which can lead to long-term neurological effects. Oh, and while I already mentioned that a negative birth experience can affect breastfeeding directly, it can also do so in
directly via postpartum depression
Negative birth experiences have other effects as well. In one study out of Sweden, it was found that negative birth experiences affected future reproduction. Specifically, the authors found that women who reported traumatic birth experiences 2 months post-partum were significantly less likely to have a second child over the next 8-10 years. In fact, only half of these women had a second child relative to the greater than 80% of women who had a second child who reported a better birth experience. This is most likely explained by research showing that while physical pain during birth recedes in memory as time passes, an overall negative birth experience does not seem to attenuate with time, resulting in a long-term negative memory for birth. In preterm children, it has been found that negative birth experiences are related to mother-child interactions post-birth and child behavioural and emotional problems at ages 5-6 years. In other words, the effects of a negative birth experience don’t end with the birth, they can continue for years and affect the very health and happiness of our children we’re supposed to prioritize over everything else.
Given the problems that can stem from a negative birth experience, it should hardly be considered “selfish” to care about how one’s child comes into this world. Thus taking the time to try and ensure a positive birth experience (whether that means a home birth, a water birth in a hospital, a drug-free birth, a necessary c-section, etc.) for oneself is not only not selfish, but is more considerate of one’s child than feeling bad for feeling bad when one does have a negative birth experience. Caregivers need to be highly cognizant of the factors associated with a negative birth experience and work to minimize them on a case-by-case basis. Not all women will have a poor labour because of labour medication, but some will and they are most likely the women who would like to avoid it in the first place. Being respectful of that is key. It is also why it is so important to remember that sometimes things will happen that will lead to a negative birth experience, and as such, when a woman does have a negative birth experience, we should not call her “selfish” for being upset by it, even if her child is born healthy, but rather work to help her handle those feelings so that her child can remain healthy and grow to be a healthy and happy child.
Did you have a negative birth experience? How did you handle it? Did you receive criticism for voicing your discontent?
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