Hormones in Labour
It’s safe to assume, that since the human race has existed for millenia, the female body is pretty capable of giving birth! In fact, it was designed to do so! From an obvious perspective- we have a uterus (home for baby) and a vagina (exit route for baby!), but it’s not quite as simple as that! What is happening physiologically in our bodies throughout pregnancy and birth, is complex, but to a point- within our control! We can do, say and think things that could stall labour in it’s tracks.. or we can do, say and think things that help it do it’s job exactly as it needs to!
The key to it all, lies in understanding the hormones!
So, obviously, in order to give birth we need contractions (or surges). Your surges are responsible for pulling up the muscles of the uterus, causing your cervix to dilate. They are responsible for pushing the baby out through the cervix and through the birth canal, to be born. Now there’s one very important hormone, which is responsible for ALL of this. It’s the hormone that brings on labour, that regulates and maintains the contractions, that builds up the intensity of contractions and essentially allows us to birth our babies- and it’s called oxytocin.
SO oxytocin is known as the ‘love’ hormone, or the cuddling hormone and it’s produced when we laugh, when we have sex, when we breastfeed, when we stroke a dog! Anything that makes us feel ‘happy’ or gives us that ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling helps us produce oxytocin. So we want this in the BUCKET LOAD when it comes to giving birth! To produce oxytocin we need to feel safe, relaxed and unobserved. And there’s so many ways to keep that flowing- whether that’s watching a funny movie in early labour, taking photos of places we love or our other children with us to the birth, having a pillow from home that smells of us and makes us feel ‘safe’. But, importantly oxytocin is made in part of our nervous system known as the parasympathetic nervous system.
Now we have another side to the nervous system- known as the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for producing another hormone that you may have heard of called Adrenalin. These two hormones- oxytocin and adrenalin CANNOT be produced at the same time. If you’re producing one, then you’re not producing the other.
Adrenalin is the hormone of ‘fear’ and stimulates something called the ‘fight or flight’ reflex within our bodies. If the ‘fight or flight’ reflex is triggered, then all of the blood, that usually surrounds our internal organs (including our uterus) rushes to our arms and legs, so we are ready to run away! Now evolutionally, this would have been pretty helpful! If we were crouched down by a tree ready to give birth, and along comes a sabre tooth tiger- we want all that ‘giving birth’ to stop, so that we can get the hell out of there! But, we’re unlikely to be giving birth by a tree near a sabre tooth tiger, so this response is pretty useless to us in 2018- but unfortunately it’s still there! And there’s a whole host of things that can trigger it during labour- whether that’s getting in the car to get to the hospital and getting stuck in traffic, or laying on your back for a vaginal examination that you don’t want and isn’t comfortable. And all of this happens in our ‘neo cortex’, which is the ‘thinking/talking’ part of our brain.
And so working in the hospital, we so often see, women coming in, having been having contracting every 2-3 minutes at home, and then once they’ve got to the hospital, sat in the waiting area, moved to the triage, had Vaginal Examination, moved up to the labour ward or the birth centre and by the time they’ve got there- the contractions have disappeared or slowed right down. And THAT is what adrenalin does to the birthing body.
In our most recent group hypnobirthing course we discussed some of the things that might trigger the production of adrenalin, and some oxytocin producing ideas we can use to stop adrenalin in it’s tracks!
What might cause Adrenalin production during birth?
Being talked to or disturbed
How can we create oxytocin to keep things going smoothly?
Massage or soft touch
Home Comforts (like a pillow from home)
Pictures of places or people we love
Up Breathing (A hypnobirthing technique)
Supportive partner and midwife
Using ear phone or an eye mask
Place of birth- Home? Birth Centre? Hospital? Where do you feel most safe?
Simply being aware of what may trigger adrenalin production for you and what you can do to stop the fight or flight reflex from being triggered can be the first step to a positive birth experience! To put it simply, they say- if you couldn’t MAKE a baby in that environment, you probably can’t give birth in it! I would love to hear if you have anything else that worked for you personally.
To read more hints and tips for a positive birth experience read more here.
If you are interested in taking the next step to a positive birth, Positively Birthing Hypnobirthing and Antenatal Classes run throughout Surrey and SW London- areas including Surbiton, Esher, Teddington, Cobham, Twickenham, St Margarets, Thames Ditton, Molesey, Richmond, Wimbledon, Kingston, Sunbury, Epsom, Ewell, and beyond. All bookings can be made here.