So you’re nearing the end of your pregnancy, you’re healthy and by all accounts, it looks like there shouldn’t be any complications with labour. Yet you can’t decide how you feel about getting this baby out. All the stories you’ve heard from family and well-meaning friends conflicts the confidence of your antenatal class teacher….and that one earth-mother friend who raves about her home births and how amazing they were and how you absolutely must go that route too.
But you? You’re secretly afraid. Torn between wanting to do the right thing for your baby and finding an easy way out. Literally.
During labour and birth, a complex yet delicate mix of hormones are at work. Some of them so shy, they sometimes need to be coaxed out, while others (usually the ones you want to avoid), rush in, overwhelming your senses.
Ever noticed where mammals choose to birth? Cats will find a dark, safe place like a cupboard, while elephant females form a tight circle around a labouring sister. As mammals ourselves, we too thrive in dark, quiet, safe places to birth our offspring.
Any threat to our safety or peace causes the hormone adrenaline to flood our systems. In classic “fight-or-flight” mode, blood rushes to your extremities while your heart pumps wildly. This is necessary when fighting for your life, when you need to survive. During labour, however, you want oxygen-rich blood flowing unhindered toward your uterus and baby instead, so adrenaline is not entirely welcome!
You’ve heard women refer to contractions as waves that peak then recede. If the fear of those peaking waves are foremost in your mind, you most likely will experience more pain as you involuntarily tense your muscles, clench your jaw and hold your breath against them. Adrenaline feeds on this tension. Oxytocin and endorphins on the other hand are essential for the labour process.
Oxytocin, or the “love hormone”, is released during orgasm or kissing. It is also what drives labour, enhancing uterine contractions, which explains why some doulas and midwives recommend couples dance together or kiss during labour. It is also not unusual for women to touch their genitals during labour since stimulating the clitoris results in the release of more oxytocin and endorphins which “result in the suppression of pain and produces a sense of well-being“. The more upright you remain, the more gravity will assist in drawing the baby’s head to the cervix, again releasing a wash of oxytocin. As the baby travels through the birth canal and begins crowning, oxytocin assists in the stretching of the perineum and gives power for pushing.
Did you know that endorphins, at their peak, are 200x more powerful than morphine? Pretty amazing, right? They usually appear when a body is physically stressed beyond normal limits (like a runner getting their second wind). During labour, they peak during transition, delivering an almost amnesic effect. They create a feeling of well-being as well as creating a lack of perception of time and place, leaving the mother quite “spaced out”. (I remember this so well from my own labour experience. It was as though I’d been drugged with heavy mind-altering substances!)
Some of the signs that endorphins are present and working well during labour are when the mother becomes withdrawn, rests between contractions and closes herself off into her own world, shutting out any distractions.
Immediately post-partum, both mom and baby will be on an oxytocin and endorphin high (yes, the birth process releases the same hormones in the baby if the mother is left to birth as naturally as possible) as they take one another in. Prolonged skin-to-skin contact between them is therefore absolutely essential. (Hint: make this part of your birth day wishes).
Part of a doula’s role during labour is to assist the mother to remain in a state of calm and peace, resting in the knowledge that she is safe. Breathing techniques, massage and encouraging intimacy between the mother and her partner form part of her labour toolbox.
There is no need to fear labour and birth. Your body has been designed for this process!
So “Face Everything And Rise” to the occasion of your impending motherhood!