Learning about natural childbirth is an important step in preparing for a healthy pregnancy and labor. Also, understanding ones parenting style and identity can bolster parental confidence. However, hormones are the powerful but hidden third component of pregnancy, labor and postpartum.
During pregnancy the female body and baby are undergoing immense physiological changes. While the pregnant woman is busy attending baby showers, sipping pregtinis and swimming in a sea of diaper cakes, the body is producing the perfect hormonal concoction for mother and baby. During pregnancy, emotions run high and it can sometimes feel like the pregnant body is being held captive by a roller coaster of feelings, sensations and changes. These hormonal changes are purposeful and utterly important. Whether the pregnant woman feels hotter than a jalapeño or as irritable as a road rager in traffic, the hormones are working their magic, helping the body prepare for labor and delivery.
Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, M.D. is the foremost expert on the subject of pregnancy and hormones. Buckley (2010) writes, “Mother nature, in her wisdom, prescribes birthing hormones that take us outside our usual state, so that we can be transformed on every level as we enter motherhood.” Planning to labor with minimal drugs or medical interventions allows your body to experience the benefits of your body’s hormones. During labor these hormones assist in the feel good sensations of an “ecstatic” birth (Buckley 2010).
Oxytocin, endorphins and prolactin are some of the key players in the hormonal mix. Oxytocin, the love hormone, is synthetically reproduced and used in the drug form Pitocin. Pitocin is often administered to stimulate contractions; however, it pales in comparison to its prototype natural oxytocin. Oxytocin not only encourages the uterus to contract, helping the baby move down and out, it benefits the pregnant body too by promoting energy conservation, nutrient absorption and de-stressing effects (Buckley 2010). After birth, oxytocin assists the expulsion of breast milk and the uterus continues to contract, warding off the potential of hemorrhaging (Odent 1998).
Fight or flight is an evolutionarily prominent mechanism of survival. If a laboring lion feels threatened labor will stall due to increased adrenaline. The same process occurs in humans. In hospital births under the pressure of policies, procedures, strangers and medical interventions it’s no wonder labor may stall (Buckely 2010). The laboring body may be reacting to the unnatural environment and thus it is important to create a secure atmosphere for labor to resume and progress. The Bradley Method® teaches couples to create a safe and private place to labor under any circumstance. Coaches are encouraged to protect the laboring mother and ward off potential disturbances that could disrupt the progress of labor. Hormones are intelligent. It is possible that adrenaline contributes to mother’s ‘failure to progress’ because of her distrust in the environment. Informed and knowledgeable couples can rebuild their sense of security. A mother that chooses to avoid drugs allows her body to navigate the hormonal map, reap the benefits and have the awareness and control of her surroundings to adapt and progress naturally during labor.
Prolactin, the mothering hormone, allows mother to nurture their precious new baby. Labor is an event of grand proportions. Unlike any other work, labor delivers the ultimate reward, a baby. Mothers feel exhausted, fatigued, uncomfortable, shaky, uncertain and sensitive, but all of these emotions are minor compared to the immense power of love. The body’s natural production of prolactin calms mother and affects the surrounding environment easing everyone’s anxieties and stress (Bradley 2008). Hormones are naturally occurring and given the chance, untainted by synthetic drugs, they allow pregnant, laboring and breastfeeding mothers to embrace the joys of motherhood.
By Molly England, AAHCC. This article was originally posted on the Pathways to Family Wellness blog.