When I got married in 2004, conversations with my mom sometimes took to the topic of pregnancy and childbirth. Becoming a mother and grandmother was now a real possibility! Not once did I consider the hormonal blueprint of labor.
Natural Childbirth Rebellion
My mom, a strong supporter of natural childbirth, would put in a good word here and there about “going natural” and not using pain medication in labor during our conversations.
As her youngest and only daughter, my mature response to her was…
“Just so you know, mom, when I have a baby I am getting an epidural. I’m just telling this to you now, so you’ll get used to the idea.”
Now that I am a mother and a doula, I think this is funny. Honestly, this was what was going through my mind.
“Why in the world would I want to feel the pain of childbirth when there are wonderful options out there to make it go away?”
“I am going to do my own thing, and not listen to what my mother says. I know better than her!”
The Gateway to Natural Childbirth
Fast forward a couple of years and my fascination with pregnancy and birth led me to read Gentle Birth Choices. This book was my gateway drug to the birth scene and the TRUTH behind the medical model of care.
(Psst. Nowadays, many women have the same “aha moment” as I did, but through the documentary The Business of Being Born. I highly recommend it! It’s life changing.)
The Hormonal Blueprint of Labor
I don’t remember much detail about the book, however, I do remember that the hormonal blueprint of labor was presented to me for the very first time.
For the first time I learned about the delicate dance of oxytocin, endorphines, and adrenaline in a laboring woman.
Curious? Let’s dive in.
Oxytocin is an important hormone, especially during labor. Many people refer to it as “the hormone of love” as it encourages bonding and feelings of altruism. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Oxytocin is secreted when you feel safe. It’s GOOOOOD.
It’s secreted during sex, orgasm and breastfeeding to name a few.
Right after birth, mother and baby have PEAK amounts of oxytocin in their bodies. They will never again be so full of oxytocin. Not all women experience this, but for those who do we call it a “birth high”. It’s some good stuff, ya’ll.
During labor, oxytocin is the hormone that causes contractions. The synthetic version is called Pitocin. We’ve all heard of that one, right?
Pitocin? Yeah… it’s not exactly the “hormone of love”. Quite the opposite in fact. Want to know why? Pitocin does not cross the blood brain barrier, so it therefore ONLY causes contractions and leaves all that other gushy gushy stuff behind.
I’ve had exasperated nurses tell my “struggling through a Pitocin induction” doula clients that, “this is labor” (meaning that they need to buckle down and start coping better).
You know what? Pitocin is not oxytocin and it feels VERY DIFFERENT. None of the warm fuzzies are there – just long, hard and close together contractions (similar to transition contractions, but for the entire portion of labor not just the tail end). For those that experienced Pitocin like me, you have my deepest sympathies.
Ladies, this is another reason to avoid a medically unnecessary induction. Because Pitocin sucks.
Pitocin is worse than being pregnant longer than one hoped.
Before we move on to the next hormone of labor, let’s finish up talking about oxytocin.
Did you know you can release oxytocin via nipple stimulation? Anything like that, that makes you feel GOOOOOD will increase oxytocin. Have fun!
The next hormone in the hormonal blueprint of labor is endorphins. What do we know about endorphins?
Ever heard of a runner’s high?
Endorphins are our body’s natural response to pain and exertion. After a long run, an athlete will get a surge of energy and feel like “they can do anything”.
Endorphins are amazing and when I have a good workout that took a lot of effort, the endorphins help me to forget about the hard work and I feel fantastic.
Endorphins are our body’s natural opiates. In labor, our body secretes them as a response to the pain from contractions.
The more pain, the more endorphins. It’s truly amazing! Our bodies are helping us cope through labor.
Remember, Pitocin on the other hand, doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier so these endorphins aren’t being secreted. So sad!
Adrenaline is known as the fight or flight hormone and is another hormone to consider in the hormonal blueprint of labor.
If a laboring woman is in the woods, alone (I have no idea why she’s there) and she thinks she sees a bear, her body’s natural response via adrenaline is to either fight that bear or run away from the bear. Let’s hope she runs away, right?
What happens next is amazing.
Because she has received a surge of adrenaline, her body will decrease her oxytocin and therefore discontinue contracting. When the adrenaline goes up, the oxytocin comes down.
Adrenaline in the laboring mama is the body’s way of saying “it’s not safe to birth here” or “that’s ok, I’ll wait to find a more comfortable space to have this baby”.
But get this.
It doesn’t matter if the bear is in the woods or not. If her brain THINKS the bear is there, her body will respond the same either way.
Bring it Together
So what do we do with this information and how should it change the way we give birth?
In a nut shell we need to give birth with people and in a space that increases oxytocin and decreases adrenaline.
For every woman, this will look a little different.
Spend a little time and think to yourself…
What do I need to give birth?
Who needs to be present for me to give birth?
For more details about all this juicy stuff here is a link to a fantastic article about the hormonal blueprint of labor.
Please read it. It’ll rock your world.
Benefits of Natural Childbirth
After learning about the hormonal blueprint of birth also I learned about the benefits of natural childbirth which are…
- Faster labor
- Faster pushing
- Less chance of vacuum, episiotomy and cesarean
- Less likely to receive Pitocin
- Healthier babies (higher APGAR score)
- Better breastfeeding success
- Less painful, quicker and easier postpartum recovery
- Sense of empowerment and elation
- Increase in bonding with baby
I also learned about the common side effects to epidurals (also known as the cascade of interventions)…
- Increase use of Pitocin
- Increase chance of tearing during birth
- Increase chance of distress for baby
- Longer labor
- Longer pushing time
- Increase risk of cesarean
- Sometimes an epidural doesn’t fully work, or only works on one side
- Spinal headache
- Drop in blood pressure
This information blew my mind.
My Mother Was Right
My mother was right. Natural childbirth is the preferred method, not just because my mother told me so but because that’s how our bodies are designed.
In fact, I went on to have three natural childbirths.
- One in a birth center.
- One at home.
- And another one that was a homebirth transfer to the hospital to receive Pitocin. Unmedicated, baby!
I’m glad I didn’t have to find out my mom was right – the hard way.
What About You?
Did you have a revelation of sorts like I did?
How did you know your planned birth experience was what you wanted?