The bonds that tie a mother to her newborn seem to be stronger in women who deliver naturally than in those who deliver by cesarean, say Yale School of Medicine researchers in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Led by James Swain, the researchers recruited two groups of parents from postpartum wards. One group of 12 mothers had cesarean sections and the other delivered naturally (vaginally). All women were interviewed and given fMRI brain scans two to three weeks after giving birth.
The team found that compared to mothers who delivered by cesarean section, those who delivered vaginally had greater activity in certain brain regions in response to their own baby's cry as measured by fMRI. These brain areas included cortical regions that regulate emotions and empathy, as well as deeper brain structures that contribute to motivation, and habitual thoughts and behaviors.
"I suspect that the parental brain is 'primed' by vaginal delivery and affected by neurohormonal factors such as oxytocin, a hormone linked to emotional connections and feelings of love," hypothesized Swain. "C-sections may alter these neurohormonal factors and increase the risk of problematic bonding and postpartum depression."
Swain was quick to add, however, that there are still plenty of good reasons for cesarean sections. "We would not want our work to be misinterpreted as proving that mothers who opt for c-sections are destined for trouble. On the contrary, we hope to provoke support from family and perhaps health professionals after C-sections," he concluded.
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Source: Yale University