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By Rosemarie Gonzalez
Birth is a time when women should feel safe, loved and comfortable. A time where she should feel like she is in the driver’s seat of this life changing event. But today many women are feeling the opposite. There is a sense of fear, uneasiness and loss of control surrounding birth. This is having a huge effect on the birth physiology.
The physiology of birth is so natural and yet so complex that any tampering with this beautiful process can cause a stall or a complete shutdown. Women need to be in there zone, where they are able to let lose, and follow their own intuition, without any thoughts or concerns to what is around. She can only do this with the space she needs to dig within herself. When a woman is in her zone during labor, there will be a reduction in the intellectual part of the brain. The intellectual part of the brain is called the neocortex. As Michel Odent states in his book, The Scientification of Love, “any stimulation of the intellect in particular, can interfere with the progress of labor”.
We don’t want to stimulate the neocortex during labor as the women needs to be within herself; to do what her body knows how to do. Cathy Daub states in her book, Birthing in the Spirit, “When the neocortex is stimulated, a woman in labor has more difficulty going deep inside herself to access her primitive brain that already knows how to give birth”. Stimulation of the neocortex can bring on fear and anxiety during labor. This can eventually lead to higher adrenaline during labor, which is known as the stress hormone. This can cause interference in labor.
Such situations as talking, asking questions, loud noises and bright lights can all interfere with a woman’s labor and stimulate the neocortex. This can stop her from giving birth instinctively, and it will make it difficult for her to dig deep into her primitive side. These types of interferences can bring on fear, anxiety and loss of control, leaving a woman to feel like she cannot do it on her own. In these situations woman are not given the love and comfort needed to birth instinctively, like she was designed to do. It is important that in order for her to have a peaceful safe birth, her birthing team must respect her feelings. If her feelings are respected, she would feel in control over her birth, which will bring her comfort and relaxation.
“The farm learned by observing and experience that the presence of even one person who is not exquisitely attuned to the mother’s feelings can stop some women’s labor. All women are sensitive. Some women are extraordinarily so. We learned this truth by observing many labors stop or slow down when someone entered the birth room who was not intimate with the laboring mother’s feelings. If that person then left the room, labor usually returned to its former pace or intensity”. ~ Ina May Gaskin
It is important for woman to feel safe, comfortable and loved during labor so that more effective hormones for labor such as, endorphins and oxytocin can be released. Oxytocin causes the uterus to contract and endorphins block the reception of pain.
Oxytocin is stimulated when the pressure of the baby is against the cervix and pelvic floor muscles. This is important because it stimulates strong contractions which help to thin and dilate the cervix. This moves the baby down into and out of the birth canal. Oxytocin also helps expel the placenta and reduces bleeding. Without the increase levels of oxytocin, contraction can become slower, leading to less effective labor pattern, which can lead to a longer labor and may increase the chances of birthing attendants responding with unnecessary interventions.
Oxytocin helps reduce stress hormone and increases calmness to birthing women and those around. In Kerstin Uvnas Moberg’s book, The Oxytocin Factor, she mentions that “administering oxytocin to an individual rat produces certain effects, such as an elevated pain threshold. But surprisingly, to a lesser degree, animals that live in the same cage but have not directly received oxytocin also show the same changes. The other animals in the cage become calmer and have lower levels of stress hormones, just as the rats who actually received oxytocin did”. Oxytocin has shown to have a positive effect on the birthing women, the baby, and those around them.
As mentioned earlier, endorphins are another important hormone in labor which blocks the receptors of pain. Endorphins are a natural effective hormone that the body produces, which allows the birthing women to relax and relieves pain. Low levels of endorphins in labor can become excessively painful, which may make it difficult to tolerate. This is another issue that can eventually lead to providers responding with unnecessary interventions.
“All mammals protect themselves during the birth process by increasing their level of endorphins…during the birth process the foetus is also increasing its own level of endorphins so that, in the few minutes following birth, both mother and baby are still under the effects of opiates” ~ Michel Odent
We also have the Adrenaline hormone, which also plays a role at birth. It is also known as the “fight or flight” hormone. If a woman feels frightened at birth, it can cause high levels of Adrenaline to be released. High levels of adrenaline can lead to a slow labor or labor can stop all together. It can also cause weird labor patterns, as well as cause distress to the unborn baby. High levels of adrenaline can increase pain for the birthing women, decreasing and working against endorphins. These effects can also lead to providers responding with unnecessary interventions and even a cesarean section.
These hormones play a vital role for mothers and babies, starting from birth. To help with the release of such important hormones it is highly important for the birthing women to feel safe in her surroundings before and during labor and birth. She must feel safe in the place she is giving birth at, as well as safe with those present at her birth. It is also important for her to work through any fears she may have before labor, as this can have an effect on the release of appropriate hormones for birth.
Fear or being uncomfortable in anyway can cause a birthing woman’s labor to stall. This can cause low levels of oxytocin and endorphins being released, with high levels of adrenaline. If a birthing woman is scared or uncomfortable during labor it is important to address those fears and concerns. It is best to do this before labor even begins to avoid any interference with the birthing process.
“We are learning that birth hormones play both mechanical and behavioral roles. For example, the body’s natural opiates, endorphins, help women in labor to cope with contractions and also dilate a baby’s eye – both mechanical roles – but they also help establish bonding and attachment between mother and baby – a behavior role.” ~ Cathy Daub
If labor seems slow, stalled or has stopped, it may be best to evaluate the situation to see if the laboring woman may be holding on to fear, or feeling unsafe in her surroundings. It is highly important to tap into the emotional side, as this will have a physiological effect on the labor. It is equally important for those around her to believe in her birthing abilities and to understand that they are passengers, there to assist if needed and she is the driver in this beautiful process to birth life.
When a woman is able to feel safe, comfortable and loved, she is able to be in her zone, which allows her body to release the appropriate hormones at the appropriate times. This can make birth smoother and safer for women and babies. This will help to avoid providers responding with unnecessary interventions. It is important for her to understand how normal the birth process is. She will have to feel what is happening is normal and feel she is safe, so that she can trust her body and trust her instincts. The process will be best if the birthing hormones are able to be released without being hindered by fear.