by Nancy F. Prevatt, RN, CCE, CD (Charis) joyfulbirthing.net
Resting at the foot of the bed lay a birthing kit, soft echoes of praise and worship can be heard throughout. Candlelight dances around the room and bounces off the mother’s glistening body. Gently embracing, they sway to the rhythm of the mother. No matter what ensues she feels safe, supported, relaxed, and comfortable. These elements of the birthing environment are essential in the release of the hormones needed for labor to progress effectively.
Creating a similar environment as you would for an intimate evening with the one you love triggers the release of the same cocktail of hormones (oxytocin, endorphins, & catecholamines) required for the birth of your baby. Oxytocin is known as the hormone of LOVE, it is absolutely necessary for lactation, as well as labor. Oxytocin helped you to fall in love with your partner, conceive your baby, and it will help you tobond with and breastfeed your baby after the birth, too. Receptor cells that allow your body to respond to the oxytocin increase gradually during pregnancy and greatly for birth. During labor the pressure of the baby against the cervix, and then against receptors in the pelvic floor, stimulates oxytocin. Thus, producing productive contractions which help to thin and open (dilate) the cervix, bring the baby down the birth canal, eject the baby, and expel the placenta soon after. This reflex of ejecting the baby is much the same as the milk ejection reflex or “let down”, as we all know it, and the expulsion of sperm.
In response to the progression of labor, your body produces calming and pain-relieving hormones known as endorphins. In un-medicated labors, this natural opiate rises steadily and steeply through the birth of your baby. These higher than usual endorphin levels during birth produces an altered state of consciousness that helps you relax into your labor. Despite the hard work of labor and birth, high endorphin levels can make you feel alert, attentive, and even euphoric after birth, as you begin to get to know and care for your baby. In this early, postpartum period, endorphins are believed to play a role in strengthening the mother-infant relationship.
On the contrary, catecholaminesare responsible for the “fight or flight” response and if the mother feels threatened or afraid it can slow down labor or cause it to stop all together. This is why no matter where mom chooses to birth (home, birth center, hospital) it is imperative that the birthing environment be protected. A mother must be made to feel safe, supported, relaxed, and comfortable.