Before I became a mom, one of my biggest fears was that I wouldn't be able to bond with my baby in the way most people assume you're meant to do. While I've always wanted children, I'm not exactly the warm and cuddly type. I never doubted I'd love my children, but I worried I wouldn't develop that soul-deep bonding I imagined. It turns out my concerns were baseless, but I still worry for the future. If I have another baby, it will likely be via C-section, which makes me wonder about C-section bonding issues. Are they real? Was it only the close, intimate connection immediately after birth that allowed me to connect with my children?
In the past 15 years, there has been a ton of research completed that looked at the bonding that happens between mom and baby after she gives birth. Science finally realized that this can be a crucial factor in things like postpartum depression and the ability to breastfeed. They also found that there are real differences between women who have C-sections and women who give birth vaginally, and it turns out, a lot of that was on the doctors. According to Birth Issues in Perinatal Care, in their quest for expediency, many of their adopted practices were not conducive to optimal maternal-infant bonding. Thankfully, this has prompted a shift in the medical community that is leading to better outcomes for the mother and child, and helping women bond with their babies, regardless of how their child entered the world.
Because, let's face it. It shouldn't matter if your child is born in a birthing tub at a hospital that looks like a four star hotel, or if your child is extricated from your womb by the fangs of your vampire husband, you should be supported in the best way possible so you can bond with your child.
The primary study cited in many meta-analyses (basically, a study that reads the data of the other studies and makes assumptions based on their findings) on mom and baby bonds found there is a possibility that the detached nature of surgery can alter the mother's perception about childbirth. The shift in a mom's perception could delay the bonding between mother and child. As per this study, published in the Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it's fairly unclear why it is that the bonding is affected, but researchers did find that women who deliver via C-section are less likely to breastfeed, which may in turn lead to a decrease in oxytocin production compared to women who do breastfeed, and so the bonding is altered. However, this could be purely correlational with one not necessarily determining the outcome of the other.
Because I could make neither heads nor tails of this conflicting information, I contacted Emily Silver, a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner specializing in OB-GYN, and co-owner of Boston NAPS, a private duty nursing company specializing in the care of pregnant and postpartum mothers and babies. She tells Romper via email that the effects on bonding can be eased with a close eye towards care in the period directly after delivery.
Silver believes it has to do with the close contact many women who have a C-section are not allowed to experience because of clinical procedure. After you deliver vaginally, your baby is placed directly on your chest, but this isn't the case with a C-section. She notes, "A C-section will be different from a vaginal delivery in the sense that the baby is not delivered and put straight to the mother's chest. However, many hospitals have evolved to now allow mothers to do skin-to-skin in the OR right after their C-section." According to Silver, this is a boon to the bonding process.
She notes this isn't always available as an option, unfortunately, replying, "If for some reason this is not possible, skin-to-skin is initiated as soon as possible after the surgery. As a former L&D RN, we always initiated skin-to-skin to promote bonding as soon as possible after a C-section."
Are C-section bonding issues real, then? Silver puts it simply, saying, "No, it will not affect the mother's ability to bond with her child if she is under the good care of a team that helps her to do early skin-to-skin." Even if that means experiencing it while you're in recovery or in the moments after, it can seriously help.
As is the case of many things, it seems to be all about the nature of the experience and how women can be supported through it. If you're concerned, talk to your team, find out their procedures, and be your own best advocate. After all, you know your own mind and body better than anyone else, and soon, that knowledge will extend to your little one. Feel free to speak up and speak loudly to get the support you deserve.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.