Childcare: Mothers respond more to baby's cry after natural birth, says study
Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday September 4 2008
Mothers who give birth naturally show a greater surge in brain activity when they hear their baby cry than women who have caesarean sections, scientists have found.
The study, the first to use brain scans to investigate mothers' responses to their babies, follows work that suggested women who have a caesarean may have more difficulties bonding with their baby.
The Yale University team behind the study said it could help doctors identify women who may find it harder to form an emotional connection with their baby, which some studies have linked with an increased risk of postnatal depression.
More than 130,000 caesarean sections were carried out by the NHS last year in England alone, accounting for about 24% of all births. "Our results support the theory that variations in delivery conditions, such as with caesarean section, which alters the neurohormonal experiences of childbirth, might decrease the responsiveness of the human maternal brain," said James Swain, who led the study.
In the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the researchers describe how they used functional MRI scans to look at 12 women's reactions to 30-second recordings of their babies crying. These were compared with their brain activity while listening to white noise for 30 seconds.
The scans revealed that women who had natural deliveries had heightened activity in a broad range of brain regions, including the amygdala, which plays a role in governing emotional states.
"This study provides an interesting link between the method of birth and the way a mother relates to her new baby," said Belinda Phipps, of the National Childbirth Trust. "Women who have a caesarean section should be encouraged to cuddle their newborn against their skin straight after birth and be offered practical support to help them feed and care for their baby."
"A caesarean section is necessary in some conditions and can save lives. However, surgery can create more problems than it solves."