The relationship between a mother and her baby begins before birth – usually during the twentieth week of pregnancy when the baby begins to kick and the mother becomes aware of him as a living moving person. From the moment of birth, however, this relationship suddenly blossoms and takes on the completely new dimension of the mother caring for the baby as a separate individual.
There is no doubt that maternal instinct is a very powerful force which determines how a mother will care for her baby. There will, of course be many occasions when a mother feels completely devoid of this very special instinct and wonders how on earth she will manage to get her baby off to a good start. The very fact that she wonders about such things is a sure sign that she will hit it off with her baby!
The basis, in fact, of getting a baby off to a good start lies with the interaction that occurs between a mother and her baby during the very first days of the baby’s life. Interaction, at this stage, is not so dependent on the language of words, which comes much later, but with a ‘language’ that allows a mother and baby to ‘converse’ with each other by sight, touch, hearing and even smell and taste-a conversation without words.
A mother and baby, in fact, have a rich ‘vocabulary’ that allows them to interact in a very subtle way. If, for example, a mother positions her face so that her eyes are level with her baby’s eyes, he will focus and look at her, often within minutes of being born. If she talks to him softly when he, he will usually stop his antics for a while and listen. He enjoys being touched and cuddled and soon learns to recognize his mother’s touch and smell. His capacity to learn and remember is, in fact, quite remarkable.
The most obvious example of mother and baby interaction during the first few days is the way in which the mother offers her baby the opportunity to suck when he cries. Soon she recognizes the different types of-the cry of real hunger, of pain, of anger, of tiredness, and responds in the appropriate way. A baby, of course, makes all sorts of sounds, including ones like burps which are usually regarded as socially unacceptable! it is easy to see how a baby’s behaviour influences his mother, evokes responses and causes her to modify her style of mothering. Likewise it is easy to see how a mother influences her baby.
From birth the baby sends out signals to his mother and, fr;;n that time forth, his development will depend on his mother’s responses to his signals. The more responses he gets, the more signals he will send out. It is during the first precious days of interaction that the foundations for a happy relationship are laid down.
BEING AT HOME IN HOSPITAL
In many countries, it has become routine practice for mothers to have their babies in hospitals rather than at home. Although this policy has, undoubtedly, made childbirth much safer for mothers, it does mean that the initial interaction between mother and baby, which naturally flourishes best in a familiar home setting, now has to occur in an environment which is as strange for the mother as it is for the baby. In the past, obstetricians, paediatricians and midwives were quite rightly preoccupied with the physical safety of mothers and babies.
Today, however, they are increasingly aware of the emotional aspects of the importance, for example, of mother and baby interaction. One result is that hospitals are no longer thought of simply as places where ill people go to get cured, but as places where perfectly healthy women go to experience one of the most important events of their lives – the birth of a baby. Part and parcel of this new thinking is the need to try and make the maternity hospital feel more like home. This can be done by encouraging, within the hospital, contact between mother, baby, father and other family members.
In order for this to happen, it is recognized that mothers need privacy and the freedom to care for and interact with their babies without being unduly hindered by regimented hospital policies. This is not always easy to arrange because, in the larger maternity hospitals, there may be as many as sixty to seventy mothers and babies in residence at any one time. Policy varies in different maternity hospitals and even between different wards, but many hospitals have adopted modern policies that cater for the individual needs of mothers and babies and this attitude is, undoubtedly, spreading. Immediately after the birth, the most natural thing in the world is for a mother to wish to hold her baby close. The midwife, however, may be so preoccupied with other things, such as documenting the birth or making routine medical observations of pulse or blood pressure that she fails to recognize this urge.
If this is the case, do not be shy. Let the midwife know that you want to hold your baby. In fact, have a clean dry towel standing by so that you can receive the baby as soon as he is born. It is a good idea to put him to the breast at this time because, apart from feeling nice, the baby’s sucking helps the uterus to contract down.
In some maternity hospitals it is still common practice, during the first day or so, for babies to spend a long time in the nursery, away from their mothers. This is done to give the mothers an opportunity to rest, but most mothers find it difficult to rest when their baby is not close to them. Closeness, which allows a mother to respond to her baby’s cry, is, of course, an important part of the initial mother and baby interaction process.
During your stay in the maternity ward, arrange for your baby’sto be beside your bed at least throughout the day. In many hospitals, it is also standard practice for babies to be removed to the nursery at night in order to allow mothers a full night’s sleep. This usually means that the nursing staff will take care of the baby’s night feed. Whilst this is acceptable to some mothers, many, particularly those who are breastfeeding their baby, prefer to have their baby by their side.
Arranging for a baby to be with you throughout the night might pose problems if there are other mothers sharing your room who wish to have an uninterrupted night’s sleep. It this is the case, ask the staff if there is a single room available. When this is not possible try to negotiate a compromise. l:or example, ask the night nurse to wake you when your baby cries. Remember that if you are going to be roused to feed your baby there is little point in accepting the sleeping tablet which is commonly offered.
Many maternity hospitals advise that a baby should be fed ‘by the clock’, at certain intervals, but this imposes restraints on the natural interaction of mother and baby. There is no doubt that it is much easier to offer feeds to a baby on demand if you are breastfeeding. In this instance you do not have to keep asking the staff to let you have a bottle each time your baby wishes to suck. Whichever way you choose to feed your baby, you may be given conflicting advice about certain details. This is because there is more than one way of doing things! Do not be afraid of trying different feeding positions until you discover the way that is most comfortable for you and your baby.
If you are, remember that milk is not a medicine to be given in a measured dose. It is best to let the baby decide how much to take. Let your baby enjoy sucking until he loses interest. This may be after a minute or two or after twenty to thirty minutes. Different babies also demand to suck at different intervals of time. Your baby may be ready to suck again one hour or four hours later. Rest assured that a regular feeding pattern will soon evolve if you let your baby, rather than the clock, decide.