Private, Intimate and Undisturbed Birth.
The hormone, or messenger-chemical in our bodies, which is meant to start and continue labour, to birth a baby and placenta is called oxytocin; oxytocin is the hormone of ‘love’, human connection and altruism (‘forgetting oneself’). Oxytocin is needed, and present during love-making and breastfeeding as well as when we hug, touch or share any pleasant activity with another. This hormone, like others is made and released by a deep primitive, unthinking part of our brain, which is also where our breathing, heart-beat and temperature control; all life sustaining efforts of our bodies arise. When we use the thinking or doing parts of our brains too much, for example when we are anxious or worry about things like labour, being observed or judged, the flow of oxytocin can be interrupted or stopped. This is partly due to the impact of 2 other hormones which also help control labour and birth; adrenaline and nor-adrenaline.
Adrenaline and nor-adrenaline are the stress hormones of ‘flight or fight’, which give those who do extreme sports their ‘buzz’ or causes stage fright when shy people are asked to perform in public. In evolutionary terms these hormones are nature’s ‘fire escape’; the means for labouring women to leave a fearful situation, to go find a safer place to birth. However the drama, lack of trust and fear created by hospital birthing can result in the stimulation of these hormones in many women so their labour is inhibited. For example a woman in early labour who goes to the hospital, clock watches to time her contractions or is asked questions during contractions can slow or stop her labour. Thus today many women who go to hospital are having their labours chemically started or driven with artificial oxytocin which research shows has many negative consequences with none of the benefits of natural oxytocin for mother or baby. Where-as if labour occurs and progresses naturallly with oxytocin flowing through both mother and baby, they are more relaxed and blissfully connected when they first meet, at birth.
Thus Dr Sarah Buckley says;
“A labouring woman needs to feel private, safe and undisturbed so that she can enter the altered state of consciousness that will ensure a smooth and safe orchestration of her ecstatic birth hormones. Ideal conditions for birth are similar for lovemaking or meditation”
Midwives who understand the interplay and impact of these hormones can determine how advanced, or not, a woman’s labour is with-out doing a vaginal examination! Through the ages and across cultures many women have birthed with-out having a vaginal examination which can have negative consequences when done unnecessarily. As the baby moves down into the pelvis there are additional changes in the woman’s behaviour, then other signs as the pelvis’ opens to allow the baby out. Research is beginning to confirm this knowledge that women have known for millenia before birth was moved into hospitals.
For labour to progress naturally no-one can direct or tell the woman what to do. As much as they may want to help, all anyone else can and should do is encourage and support a woman’s efforts to connect and respond to the needs of her body, her baby so she can labour effectively. A woman labouring as her body needs will then behave more in tune with all of the labouring hormones including our body’s equivalent of morphine; beta-endorphin.
Endorphins are like heroin, a powerful naturally occurring means to relieve pain, which can similarly be addictive. For example under the influence of endorphins some sports people have gone on with their activityignoring their bodies early pain signals, and so badly damaged their bodies through over-exertion. Like oxytocin, endorphins arise from our deep primitive brain so their flow requires that we do not use our thinking brains. Under the influence of endorphins labouring women begin to move and behave instinctively, to be in that previously mentioned ‘altered state of consciousness’ rather thrashing about in pain. However labouring in a hospital usually requires a woman to ignore outside noises, smells and other distractions, so to be able to enter and maintain an ‘altered state of consciousness’ amongst strangers and an unfamiliar, clinical environment is big ask for a woman.
For women who do access the natural peak flows of oxytocin and endorphins birth is more than bearable, with these hormones reaching high levels during late labour, birth can be pleasurable. Thus nature has provided a means to make reproducing and nurturing babies something that women want to do it again and again! Birth has evolved as a means to reproduce the best of a species, uninformed intereference is proving to be counter productive. Women need to reclaim the knowledge, control and joy of natural birth!
Peggy Vincent in Baby Catcher says;
“Women’s bodies have near perfect knowledge of childbirth; its when their brains get involved that things go wrong. When we force external rules on labouring women’s behaviour, their births may veer off track. The intrinsic intelligence of women’s bodies can be sabotaged when they are put into clinical settings, surrounded by strangers and attached to machines that limit their freedom to move. They then risk falling victim to the powerful forces of fear, loneliness doubt and distrust which all increase pain. Their hopes for a normal birth all disappear as quickly as fluid in an IV bottle.”