Obstetrician and researcher Dr Michel Odent, speaks of the birth hormones and the very subtle ways in which they respond to our environment. This “hormonal cocktail” is what helps us have healthy labours. When we start to play with it, this is when we can have problems arise.
One of the main hormones is oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone because it is also released during orgasm, breastfeeding, and other moments where you are designed to connect on an emotional level. Oxytocin in labour is what brings on your labour contractions. When your body releases oxytocin, it also sends your brain a message to release it’s friend beta-endorphins – a natural opiate to make you feel good (and thus making labour more manageable).
If you think of making love with your partner (where the oxytocin is rising), it is likely in a dark, quiet room where you feel safe. If you were to hear someone running up the stairs or a knock on the door, it would likely bring up a feeling of worry or fear and your levels of oxytocin would fall. Birth is the same way! If you are doing great with your contractions but a new person walks in you had never met, you might feel shy, embarrassed, or even reluctant to talk to them. You might also be the person who is scared about being alone in labour (and in Toronto, this is the way the majority of our hospital births go). This fear causes a rise in the competing hormone, adrenaline. For oxytocin to be high, adrenaline needs to be low. This means we need to find a space where you feel loved, supported, and as safe as possible.
Creating that birth space and having a team that is willing to help you do this is the best way to get oxytocin to find its peak (thus helping you have an efficient labour and reducing your need for interventions). A few things you can do to help reduce the fear and bring on the confidence:
- Practice comfort measures often: The more you get comfortable using these positions before birth, the easier it is for you to find ones you like when the time comes. This makes them all a lot more familiar and you are letting go of a lot of the unknown.
- Bring your doula: Your doula is a constant presence. Whether you are birthing in a hospital or at home (or our soon to come birthing centres), your doctors/nurses/midwives will not be with you 100% of the time. Your doula can also help you get information and make you feel safe. Remember – a doula doesn’t replace your partner. Your partner has something for you that a doula will not be able to provide – a deep love and understanding of you! Putting both a doula and partner together is a beautiful team who can help you through anything!
- Read positive birth stories: You are not the first to go through childbirth and you will not be the last. Reading the stories can tell you how birth can be, how people coped, and open you up to more ideas. Try reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth or Bearing Witness.
- Re-create a calm environment: Take the time to get settled into your birth space. Dim the lights, get rid of unnecessary noises, put up some of your own images and anything else that makes it yours. Feel free to put on music you enjoy and let yourself dance and sway as you feel comfortable.
So when it comes to birth, love has everything to do with it!