When a baby is born distressed, or does not immediately begin breathing, about the first thing that happens is his umbilical cord is cut. (Actually, the cord is typically cut immediately even when the baby is fine, but that will be a subject for a different post.) The umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline. It is his way of breathing. If the newborn baby is having trouble establishing or maintaining breathing, how does it help to cut his lifeline–his oxygen supply–his fetal way of breathing?
The typical answer is, “Well, he has to be moved to the oxygen table–he needs oxygen–he needs to be resuscitated.” That may very well be (although I have heard of a study that says that room air is as good or possibly preferable to highly-oxygenated air for the baby’s long-term well-being, except in extreme cases). But let’s grant that the baby should be given extra oxygen. I don’t have a problem with that. But why cut the cord? “Well, the oxygen table is across the room–the cord has to be cut to take the baby over there!” Why is the table across the room, then?–if it is needed so frequently immediately after birth, why is it not closer? Or, why cannot it be moved to where the mom and baby are? Or, why cannot the mom and baby be moved to the oxygen table? If the umbilical cord is not compromised (for example, a true knot), why cut off what oxygen the baby is able to get? The umbilical cord provided sufficient oxygen for 9 months–why is it suddenly insufficient at 2 seconds post-birth?
Most babies do not breathe immediately upon birth. Most babies are slow to begin breathing deeply and regularly–remember, they’ve never done this before, so it takes a little bit for the automatic breathing system to “click.” My first baby was a water-birth, and right after birth he was put in my arms. He wasn’t breathing, but his eyes were open and he was looking around. The midwife began rubbing him with a towel, and he cried out and then settled down again. My second baby was born before the midwife got to my house, and he also didn’t cry right away. (My mom was freaking out–“Why isn’t he crying?!” I calmly told her that he didn’t have anything to cry about.) He was breathing and everything was fine. Again, when my sister started drying him off with a towel, he started crying, but he also stopped quickly. And both babies had periods where they stopped breathing for a few seconds in that first day–almost as if they forgot what they were supposed to be doing. This is normal.
Most people find great joy and happiness in hearing baby’s first cry. I don’t. I think it’s a pitiful sound. Yes, it shows that he is alive and his lungs are working; but I always think he cries because all of a sudden he can’t breathe (his oxygen line–the umbilical cord–has been cut) and he feels like he’s suffocating. The survival instinct kicks in and he is forced to gasp for air. With the umbilical cord intact, it keeps supplying oxygen for some time, enabling him to gently begin to breathe and gradually wean from the cord to room oxygen. One of the most disturbing things to me about most birth videos (especially shows like “A Baby Story” and “Birth Day”) is how these precious newborn babes are treated immediately after birth. As soon as they come out, their lifeline is clamped, a bulb syringe is shoved down their throat and in their nose, and they are put under an extremely bright heat lamp, while they cry out for the only person they know–their mother–who is at the other end of the room barely able to catch a glimpse of her baby while strangers poke and prod.
Contrast that to a home birth where as soon as the baby is born, fluid is allowed to naturally drain from his mouth and nose (the typical birthing position is with the mom upright), and the baby is placed against his mother’s chest, with full skin-to-skin contact. The mother’s body heat keeps the baby warm (so no heat lamp is necessary); her breathing and heartbeat are familiar and soothing, and help the baby to get into the proper rhythms of life. As long as the baby is not compromised, the mom and baby are not disturbed for as long as they wish. Everything else can wait, while the mom and baby get to know each other.