The First Prolonged Emotional and Physical Shock 
the Child Undergoes
By Olive M. Pemberton, Ph.D.



Our current psychological knowledge is revolutionizing old beliefs about babies,newborn and unborn. The Carnegie Corporation reports that the United States is considered one of the wealthiest and most "advanced" countries in the world, yet nine out of 1,000 babies die before their first birthday. This is one of the highest infant mortality rates in the industrialized world.

Frederick Leboyer, author of "Birth Without Violence" writes, "How the child is born - whether it is painful or easy, smooth or violent - largely determines who he/she becomes and how he/she will view the world."

Background Information
During the 20th century the medical professions were learning more about baby bodies and the psychological professions were learning about their minds. I was taught in my psychology classes that the baby's brain was a tabula rosa ‹ a blank page; pain and suffering by the baby were impossible; violent reactions were only reflexes; their cries were not any real form of communication so were not respected; and for necessary surgery they were paralyzed but given no anesthesia - all of this based on doctors' beliefs that before or after birth only the physical body of the babies, and nothing more, would be affected by what they did to these new sensitive lives. The body was everything, there was no mind. And the list of assaults to babies has gone on and on.

Unfortunately in the profession of obstetrics, too many of these ideas and practices are alive and well today, especially the surgical practices. The good news is, there are more and more persons involved in bringing babies into this world who are pushing for extensive changes in these outdated ways. Dr. David Chamberlain says in his video, "Babies Know More Than You Think," "We are making babies angry by hurting them before, during, and after birth, including probing their eyes and ears, piercing their heels for blood, and taking them away from their mother immediately after birth."

So with this introduction, let me suggest to you potential parents, whether it's your first or fourth child, that you become aware of the new information that will assist in having a safe birth and emotionally healthy baby. Childbirth was meant to be a beautiful, natural, euphoric, painful, and scary experience for the mother and the baby. Their bodies have to make numerous changes in order for the birth to occur. Doctors are considered to be the "wizards" for assisting at birth, and mother gets very little credit for giving birth. This has created fear at birth which is growing in our society, because most of the public is unfamiliar with childbirth, especially women having their first child.

Thoughts About Compassionate Birthing
The more potential parents know about and understand the birthing process the smoother and easier the birth will be. This can happen when parents spend lots of time reading and talking about the different childbirth processes, such as Lamaze, Leboyer, or Bradley to name a few.

According to Tracy Hotchner in her book, "Pregnancy and Childbirth," there are slight differences in the breathing methods being taught, however, ". . . what is important is your intense concentration on breath-ing patterns which reduces your experience of pain. The other important thing you learn is the ability to relax your body at will, it is the key to pain reduction . . . your state of mind during labor has a definite effect on the contractions."

Whatever process is chosen, both parents attend classes and practice, practice, practice the breathing and relaxation exercises so they become second nature. Childbirth education classes prepare you to control your mental state for the management of painful stimuli. Also, expressing your fears, concerns, joy and feelings of anticipation of the coming event with one another can relieve some of your anxieties.

A University of Michigan study found that anxious women spent, on the average, many more hours in labor than calm women.

Thomas Verny, M.D. and Pamela Weintraub in "Nurturing the Unborn Child" state, ". . . if you do your best to remain calm during your pregnancy, if you communicate a sense of love to your unborn baby, and if you orchestrate a joyous, positive birth, you will be contributing immensely to the emotional and physical health of your child for the rest of your life." And in "The Secret Life of the Unborn Child," Verny comments, that for the baby "Even in the best of circumstances, birth reverberates through the child's body like a seismic shock of earthquake proportions."

The MOTHER'S decision about her position for the actual birth is crucial. Quoting Tracy Hotchner, "Avoid the supine (lithotomy) position which has many drawbacks ‹ the uterus is compressing the aorta (a main artery supplying blood to the fetus). Thus, the baby doesn't get enough oxygen because its blood supply is reduced; the normal intensity of contractions is decreased; it inhibits the voluntary efforts to push out spontaneously because gravity is not working in your favor. This increases the need for forceps to assist delivery; it inhibits the spontaneous expulsion of the placenta, causing the necessity for other procedures that increase the possibility of hemorrhage; and it increases the need for an episiotomy‹an incision made between your vagina and your anus. (In other countries the episiotomy rate is around ten percent versus over 70 percent in the United States.) For all of these reasons you may want to try a sitting, semi-sitting, or side-lying position."

Use of Drugs During Childbirth
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that, if possible a woman forego any drugs during labor and delivery. There is physical development in the brain at birth and the drugs interfere with this. Many women ask for drugs because they want to be comfortable. Childbirth is not meant to be totally comfortable. As stated above, mother's attitude, knowledge, and relaxation make a big difference in the degree of comfort she and her baby have during this procedure.

Dr. Chamberlain relates the story of a woman going through the birth experience while under hypnosis, when suddenly she became almost unable to move. She discussed the experience with her mother and was told that when she was born the doctor had given her mother drugs that caused she and mother to be unable to move. This caused feelings of fear that the woman had been carrying all through her life.

A research report issued by doctors in Sweden states that adolescent suicides tend to be related to traumatic birth experiences; especially when drugs were given to mother.

Any drug taken during labor and delivery reaches the baby's system. A small amount of a painkilling drug has a more powerful effect on the baby - not only because an adult dosage into such a tiny body is too much, but his/her body is not yet able to quickly get rid of the drug from its system.

An analgesic is any drug that relieves pain, such as tranquilizers, barbiturates, amnestics, and narcotics. An infant whose mother has had a general anesthesia during delivery tends initially to be slow-moving and have less motor coordination.

Natural childbirth, when possible, is most beneficial for the mother, father, and especially the BABY.

The Arrival
It is the baby who decides when the time is ripe, and who starts the engines of birth by releasing hormones into the mother's body. She in turn releases her hormones so they can work together for the baby's journey out. The important thing is that both of them are relaxed in order to more easily do what needs to be done.

The environment in which the infant arrives is crucial - that it is warm, no bright lights, and quiet as possible, except for the parents' and attendants' voices when necessary.

Immediately upon birth the baby should be placed on the mother's breast - the only person familiar to him/her. There is familiarity of mo-ther's smell, heartbeat, and voice. When the child is placed on mother's breast they, along with father, should have at least one or two hours of getting-acquainted time. A child needs to start life with gentleness, softness, and a caring touch by those he/she knows.

homas Verny says, "Different kinds of birth experiences influence a child's subsequent intellectual and emotional growth. What I have found is that the children who learn the most quickly had started bonding with their mothers immediately after birth. This continues to affect the child's sense of emotional security years later. Much of what is called motherly behavior is biologically regulated right after birth. We already know a newborn's presence is biologically critical to his mother in at least two important respects: (1) His cries stimulate her production of breast milk, and (2) the touch of his skin against her breast releases a hormone that reduces post-delivery bleeding."


Going Home
Taking your infant home from the hospital can be another trauma for him/her. The bright sunlight, the different smell of the air, and the sounds and movements are all new experiences. As much as relatives are anxious to "oohh" and "aahh" over your beautiful treasure, all the new faces, voices, and smells of the well-wishers can be overwhelming and cause the baby much discomfort. Passing this new life from one relative or friend to another to hold at this time is pleasure for them but literally agony for the baby.

Past Memories?
While proofreading this article, and my previous article concerning pregnancy, by a friend of mine whose children are grown, guilt feelings were experienced about when she had her own children and the fact that she hadn't known at that time any of the information she was currently reading. I am asking that you please refrain from getting stuck in any guilt you may feel about things that occurred to your children while they were in your womb or during their birth that we NOW know can be harmful to the fetus or infant.

This information was not highly publicized then as it is today. For whatever reason your doctors didn't know it, therefore, it was not possible for you to know it either. If you have any guilt feelings in this area that you think you can't let go of, I urge you to seek professional help to deal with them.

Unfortunately, the old ways are still being taught in too many medical schools, and the problems are being perpetuated.

What All of Us Can Do
There are several goals that all of us, including parents, physicians, educators, and all child caregivers, can consider in relation to our newest generations ‹ (1) help to eliminate all medically-caused pain from normal birth; (2) insist that children, starting at conception, be treated with the love and respect a human being deserves; and (3) read the books I have mentioned in this article, then educate your own children and/or grandchildren about how they can have safe births and emotionally healthy children. Be a good mentor for them, advising them to go only to obstetricians and pediatricians who have been willing to learn and practice the new ways of dealing with our new lives, and encourage them to choose hospitals where the latest methods for childbirth and infant care are used. Be missionaries, spread the word.

For those who are interested, I present programs on The Growth and Development of the Brain and Emotions From Birth through the First Three Years of Life to community organizations, churches, and schools for a fee. Questions or comments can be sent by e-mail to 

In my next article I will be discussing emotional growth and development during the FIRST year of life.

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