Attachment style is extremely important and can have life-long implications for an individual’s behaviors and relationships. Secure attachment between mother and child starts at birth, and it has been shown that Oxytocin, a natural labor-promoting hormone and neurotransmitter, is a “love” hormone that helps mother and child bond prior to childbirth.
I recently watched the documentary The Business of Being Born, which explained that Cesarean section rates in the United States are very high, and labor induction and Cesarean sections are often done for non-medical reasons. Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin used for labor induction) can cause fetal distress, therefore increasing the risk of Cesarean sections. The documentary pointed out that when Cesarean sections are performed there is not an increased amount the Oxytocin or Pitocin neurotransmitter present in the mother (as it is during labor), which can inhibit immediate bonding/ attachment of mother and child. In addition, female primates who had Cesarean sections (no Oxytocin or Pitocin), lacked maternal behaviors when interacting with their young. A study at Yale also found that women who had Cesarean sections were less responsive to their baby’s cry, and that mothers who had vaginal deliveries had greater neurological activity in a large number of brain regions when their child cried (Swain et al. 2008). Perhaps these are the areas of the brain with Oxytocin receptors.
If Cesarean sections cause a lack of natural neurological “love hormones,” which could impede attachment, then perhaps doctors should be making a greater effort to avoid Cesarean sections if at all possible. Furthermore, to what extent is attachment hindered, and how easily can it be reestablished? These “love” neurotransmitters, such as Oxytocin, serve an important biological function at birth. Is it unethical to perform Cesarean sections that are not medically necessary if it hinders healthy attachment and maternal behaviors? Should Pitocin be administered to the mother after a Cesarean section to allow for a more “natural” neurological process? At the very least, expecting mothers should be made aware of the behavioral and psychological effects of Cesarean sections.
Maternal brain response to own baby-cry is affected by cesarean section delivery (Swain et al. 2008)