Hormones and Active Birth
Two important elements in an Active Birth are the quiet presence of a supportive midwife and the right kind of atmosphere in the labour room.
The room needs to be comfortable, warm, calm and peaceful so that you have enough privacy and security to let yourself go, to be noisy if you need to and to relax and rest in between the contractions without distractions.
When the lights are turned down low or the curtains are drawn and it is quiet, your body produces high levels of the special hormone called oxytocin which stimulates good strong contractions. You also produce floods of hormones called endorphins, which are natural painkillers and relaxants. Combined with the benefits of being upright, these hormones help you to forget about everything else, to sink into your labour and concentrate on the contractions. Once you can relax with it, labour usually progresses well leading to an efficient second stage and a successful birth for all concerned.
It’s important to understand that labour and birth are involuntary, in that the uterus contracts spontaneously, firstly to open the womb and then to give birth to the baby. All of this happens without your conscious control. It’s not about doing anything and is more to do with relaxing and letting it happen.
From beginning to end the entire birth process is stimulated by these hormones. They are produced by the ‘old brain’ or hypothalamus. We have this in common with all other mammals, and like them, we need to feel safe and protected in order to secrete the birth hormones effectively.
These are the very same hormones we produce when we make love, which is why the renowned French active birth pioneer Michel Odent calls them the ‘love hormones’. Think about the kind of environment you like to be in when you make love, or how mammals usually choose a warm dark and secure place to give birth and you can guess what kind of atmosphere you will need to encourage good secretion of these ‘love hormones’ during labour.
Miraculously, the hormones of birth are also promote love and attachment. In the hours after an Active Birth, both you and your baby will have a huge level of ‘love hormones’ coursing through your bloodstream which will help you to bond and fall in love immediately after the birth.
Active Birth – With The Help of Water
An important innovation in the ideal birthing environment for an Active Birth has been the introduction of water birth pools. These are now becoming much more widely available and many hospitals and birth centres have installed pools. They can also be rented for home births. In addition to gravity, water is another of nature’s elements which has enormous power to support your instinctive resources in labour.
Experience has shown that it’s best to think of using water in mid labour, when you are about 5 – 6cms dilated. Labour is usually very intense at this stage and you may well feel that you need some help – this is the ideal time to enter the birth pool.
After half an hour or so of being in the warm water you are likely to enter a very relaxed state where you can go to a deeper level inside yourself and let go to the power of the more active phase of labour. This is the time to let your body take over, to trust in nature and to surrender to the involuntary forces that are opening your body and bringing your baby to birth.
The warm sensations of the water on your skin will help to modify the pain and the buoyancy of the water relieves you of your body’s weight. This helps enormously to make you more comfortable in upright positions and to conserve your strength and energy. Its much easier, for example to move or to squat in water.
Your partner can sit right beside the pool or even get in with you to massage and hold you. Once in the pool, you are unlikely to notice the world outside the rim of the pool or how much time has passed. It helps you to stop thinking and to be in your body. There is an increase in oxytocin secretion when you enter the water which peaks after about 2 hours, so you may find that contractions become stronger and you reach full dilation within a few hours.
When you feel you are ready to push and give birth to your baby you may decide to leave the pool and have your feet firmly planted on the ground or you may decide to remain in the water for the second stage. Provided there is good progress and no sign of any complication, birth in water can be easier for the mother and gentler for the baby.