Four of the major hormonal systems are active during labour and birth.
OXYTOCIN the hormone of love, and probably the most recognised hormone as it is secreted during love making, male and female orgasm, birth and breastfeeding. It produces feelings of love and altruism.
ENDORPHINS – hormones of pleasure and transcendence. Like addictive opiates it induces feelings of euphoria. High levels during labour enable pain to be transmuted so the woman can enter the altered state of consciousness that characterises an undisturbed birth.
ADRENALINE AND NORADRENALINE or commonly known as fight or flight – hormones in response to anxiety, fright, hunger, cold as well as excitement, which is appropriate in the animal world where the mother often has to flee to safety. However, for humans, when the moment of birth is imminent these hormones act in a different way. The woman experiences a sudden rush of energy, she becomes very ‘present’ and alert, birthing her baby with ease.
PROLACTIN – the mothering hormone and the main hormone in breastfeeding. Prolactin is a hormone of surrender, helping a Mum put her baby’s needs first.
These systems are common to all mammals and originate deep in our mammalian or middle brain.
For birth to proceed optimally, this part of the brain must take precedence over the neocortex, or rational brain. This shift requires an atmosphere of quiet and privacy with dim lighting and little conversation, and no expectation of rationality from the labouring woman. Under such conditions a woman will intuitively choose the movements, sounds, breathing and positions that will birth her baby most easily. This is her genetic and hormonal blueprint.
What does this mean? It is extremely rare in our culture for women to truly experience an undisturbed birth. The two main factors that disturb birth in all mammals are firstly being in an unfamiliar place and secondly the presence of an observer. Feelings of safety and privacy, respect and dignity are vital to allow the normal flow of amazing hormones.
All these systems are adversely affected by current birth practices. Hospital environments, unfamiliar staff, routines and policies are not conducive to the shift in consciousness that giving birth naturally requires. A woman’s hormonal physiology is further disturbed by practices such as induction, the use of painkillers and epidurals, caesarean section, and separation of mother and baby after birth.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DOULA MAKES
Most women are choosing to birth in a hospital, probably because it has become a cultural norm. They are presenting with so many fears, anxieties and trepidation. Having a doula however can turn these attitudes into happiness, joy, confidence and empowerment. A doula will hold a protective bubble around you, so you can birth with dignity, privacy, respect and pure joy, even in the hospital environment, and your hormones will flow as your genetic blueprint dictates.
Every pregnant woman deserves a doula!
Check out our wonderful Birth Right doulas here: