There are women giving birth every day of the year. At home, in the hospital– even in the car! It seems as if labor progressing is not problem. It seems as if a positive birth atmosphere would not matter much given the different circumstances in which women have their babies.
But it does. So much.
Here’s why: there’s this stuff, this hormone, called Oxytocin; also known as the “love molecule” or “trust molecule.” This delightful hormone is front and center in labor and delivery. In fact, if labor slows, the #1 intervention is to give the laboring woman intravenous Pitocin, which is the synthetic version of our body’s chemical, Oxytocin. It is responsible for labor starting and for contractions to continue and increase in strength and frequency.
I was at a birth once with a client who loved the TV on for background noise. When I first met the expecting couple at the hospital, the TV was on in triage. My gut reaction was to let them know that they could shut it off and to offer to do that for them. I was surprised when the birth partner said to me “No, actually, she likes it on.” As a doula, it’s not my job to do what I think is best, or to organize the birth in a way that I would birth my baby, but to quietly support and trust my client’s wishes. After all, even if the TV on would stress ME out, if it was bringing my client comfort, then having the TV on was exactly what we needed.
As time went on it became clear (particularly during an episode of Dateline) that the TV was pushing its way from a background role right up to lead and kicking out our good friend Oxytocin. What the doctor was telling us was that my client’s contractions had become ineffective and her cervix was not continuing to dilate. What I was noticing, was that the human connection in the room was almost non-existent. After 12 hours of staying at 5 cm dilated and closing in on a caesarean birth, I suggested that my client and her partner get close.
We shut the TV off, we said a prayer- as this was part of their support system, I put on some soft music and the two expecting parents shared conversation, massage and giggles.
One hour later, Mom was dilated almost fully and the baby was born shortly after.*
This is when I learned that babies don’t like Dateline.
They want to be born in an atmosphere of comfort, safety, trust and love. This is when the body can pump out oxytocin to it’s fullest.
As important as it is to learn how to promote oxytocin, it’s also important to understand what can inhibit it’s production. Aside from Dateline, here are 3 other ways to stop labor in it’s tracks.
#1 Bright Lights
You are sitting in a dimly lit restaurant enjoying a delicious meal, some fantastic live music and great company. You feel relaxed and are having a fantastic time. Suddenly, the light switch gets turned on. What do you do? What does everyone in the restaurant do? You squint your eyes, sit up straight (tense up) for a minute and maybe the musicians even stop playing for a second. People are probably feeling a bit exposed.
Ina May Gaskin, midwife, birth activist and author of many books including “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” famously speaks about the Sphincter Law and it’s importance in childbirth. She says that sphincters (ahem, the cervix, too!) are shy.
We seek privacy to allow our sphincters to do their jobs, jobs that at the most basic level, have to do with hormone levels in the body. -Ina May Gaskin
Bottom line: It seems as if bright lights equal exposure. The cervix would prefer a safe, intimate and private environment where Oxytocin can thrive.
Adrenaline is our good friend in stressful situations. It is a hormone which prepares our muscles to move it or lose it! Although many popular Blockbuster hits would lead us to believe that this is precisely what we need for labor and birth– actually, the exact opposite is shown to be true. Adrenaline can actually shut down the production of oxytocin.
So, when exactly can adrenaline creep in and wreak havoc? According to Elizabeth Davis, co-author of Orgasmic Birth, ” when women become frightened or over-analytical or anxious about their progress.”
Let’s discuss fear for a moment. A woman may never feel fearful during her labor and birth, but her body may be reacting to the environment around her with fearful responses. The question isn’t “am I feeling afraid?” rather, it is “what might my body perceive as frightening?”
Some answers: commotion, bright lights, negative thoughts/words from herself, partner and especially caregivers, transferring location, loud noise, vaginal exams and spectators.
Bottom line: Birth is supposed to be an act of love. Treat it as such and adrenaline will have to hit the road.
#3 Lack of Support
Let me be clear, I am not saying lack of people in the room, I am saying lack of SUPPORT. When a laboring woman is with a person/people whom she loves and trusts, oxytocin is free to flow and the process should progress rather smoothly. If she is surrounded by people who are not in support of her birth wishes the exact opposite may ensue.
This is why a partner’s support is SO incredibly important. They can literally change the course of labor, at times, with a touch of their hand!
It’s also why a doula’s support has shown to decrease the length of labor, decrease the need for epidural, decrease the unplanned caesarean birth rate and increase positive feelings surrounding the birth experience.
Bottom line: Partners, don’t underestimate yourself! You have such an important role– your closeness is priceless! Hire a doula to free you up to be as present as you need to be for the laboring woman.
*Birth story shared with permission.