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Prenatal & Birth Trauma Attachment Problems in Babies & Children

Most of the research into understanding Attachment and the development of Attachment Theory focuses on the interactions that parents have with their babies throughout infancy and early childhood.

Research from a number of fields, including prenatal and birth psychology, foetal origins theory, neuroscience and cellular biology all point to the fact that it is our earliest experiences that create the foundation upon which our later experiences are built.

The roots of our capacity to form stable, secure attachments with others in later life are set during these earliest times. Prenatal and birth trauma are usually overlooked as significant causal factors in understanding and treating attachment-related problems, and are related to first chakra woundings that live in frozen psychic time blocks and are relative to some of what we see in those who do the leaving pattern in the 5PP.

The Sensitive Period

The 30-60 minutes that exists immediately after birth during which the potential for early maternal-baby bonding is at its optimum. If a baby is left undisturbed to be in skin to skin contact with mother, chord still attached, rather than immediately taken away for cleaning, weighing, testing etc., baby can slowly begin to adjust to life outside the womb, and develop a more intimate relationship with both parents in time.

If babies were left undisturbed with their mothers, within about twenty minutes they would actively start moving towards and seeking out her breast, in what has become known as the delivery self-attachment process.

Babies who were initially removed from their mother to be cleaned, weighed and tested before being put back on her abdomen also initiated the same movements towards the breast, but half of them displayed a poor suck response.

Unmedicated babies were able to move towards the breast and begin to suckle regardless of whether they had been separated at birth. However, the babies who had had a medicated birth were still so drowsy from the effects of the drugs that they were unable to orient to the breast at all. None of these babies self-attached.

“brief separation of the baby from the mother during the first hour after birth had a strong affect on the success of the first breast-feed, as did pethidine given to the mother during labour. Of babies both separated and exposed to pethidine through their mothers, not one breast-fed successfully, whereas almost all those who were neither separated nor exposed to pethidine succeeded in adopting the correct breast-feeding technique. Thus the two crucial determinants for a successful start to breast-feeding seem to be uninterrupted contact with the mother until after the first feed unless separation is unavoidable, and no sedation of the baby by analgesics given to the mother during labour”

The self-attachment process is not only important in the establishment of breast-feeding, it is also instrumental in the development of healthy bonding and subsequent attachment.

Qualities such as relaxation, openness and quiet presence are integral to the establishment of healthy bonding. These qualities are created through a parasympathetic dominance in the nervous systems of both mother and baby.

The parasympathetic branch helps the body to slow down and to conserve its internal resources.

The sympathetic branch is the part that moves us into action by using up those resources. Good health and well-being arises as a result of these two being in a state of relative balance.

In a state of parasympathetic dominance, the muscles of the body start to relax. There is a general feeling of relaxation and letting go. In sympathetic, the muscles contract ready for action, with ensuing feelings of mental and physical tension and agitation. Stress is a more exaggerated sympathetically dominant condition in which the body becomes flooded with stress hormones. This has the effect of creating even more tension, anxiety and even panic.

It should be fairly obvious that any physiological state which encourages a woman to relax and let go, would be particularly helpful during the birth process. However, in order for this to occur, especially during labour, a woman needs to feel safe, supported and fully empowered. Unfortunately, many women feel quite the opposite during labour. The reasons for this may be manifold, but usually arise as a direct consequence of the medicalisation of the birth process, and the subsequent disempowerment of the mother. The end result of this is that large numbers of mothers and babies experience significant stress and traumatisation at this time.

This Documentary film is a window into the Business of Being Born.

So, what are the effects of high levels of stress and birth trauma on mother-baby bonding? One way in which we can answer this is by considering the effects of the major brain hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin has been found in significant amounts in both the mother and baby and reaches a peak just after birth. It is secreted by the hypothalamus and stored in the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Its role in the initiation of uterine contractions during birth, stimulating the “milk ejection reflex” (letdown) during breast-feeding as well as its release during sexual orgasm. Oxytocin’s role as the principal altruistic love hormone is a natural and necessary for bonding.

This is the importance of oxytocin in early bonding, and the detrimental effects that disrupt bonding can have upon the baby, the mother and society as a whole. Bonding deficits, extending from our earliest experiences, can have powerful impacts in many different areas of life. Dissassociation, ungroundedness, being accident prone, addiction, baseline terror in the body, distrust of people, life and the world, financial problems, problems with housing/homelessness, and vocation, depression anxiety, feelings of self hatred, walled off, closed heart, one who leaves, disappears, disassociates either spiritually, emotionally, physically, when encountering any signs of stress. Flight/freeze response.

Oxytocin is inhibited during periods of sympathetic arousal when a mother and her baby feel stressed, frightened or threatened. This makes good biological sense. No mother would want to give birth to a vulnerable baby when she feels under threat from a predator. Most people would also find it difficult to have an intimate sexual experience under these conditions. However, childbirth is a time when a woman is at her most vulnerable. She is completely reliant on those around her to support and protect her.

The widespread use of synthetic oxytocin (Syntocinon) to induce and/or augment labour also has a significant impact upon perinatal bonding.

Synthetic oxytocin floods the bloodstream of the mother, giving rise to contractions that are longer, more intense and closer together than she would normally experience. As well as the increased use of pain-relief medications, synthetic oxytocin has a number of effects on the bonding process.

In summary then, most women in our society give birth in a sympathetically charged state as a result of feeling disempowered, unsupported and frightened during birth. This creates a reciprocal sympathetic charge in the baby.

Sympathetic dominance, with its associated cascade of stress hormones inhibits the production of the “love hormone” oxytocin, making the bonding that arises from relaxed, present mother-baby interactions much more difficult.

If both mother and baby are left undisturbed at this critical time, so that they can have all the time they need to be with each other, then they can begin to down-regulate from the effects of the birth to a more relaxed parasympathetic state, increasing the flow of oxytocin.

The mother is able to do this if she feels safe and supported.

The baby does it as a result of the natural bonding behaviours of the mother.

These behaviours are very simple and instinctive, and include skin-to-skin contact, eye contact, feeding and gentle stroking.

Birth trauma on its own may not be the only impact of first chakra trauma, but when the first chakra is overcharged or undercharged, it impacts the development of the other chakras and informs more complex forms of attachment and projections onto the world.

However, combined with specific types of prenatal trauma (e.g. unwanted pregnancies, in utero drug and alcohol exposure as well as violence, illness and extreme or prolonged stress during pregnancy)

as well as lack of appropriate attunement and engagement through infancy from their primary caregivers in terms of getting their needs met, are all factors are all relative to development.

are powerful resources to illuminate and heal developmental / ancestral wounding.

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