The Hormone Cocktail Party of Natural Childbirth

Bronwyn's picture

When you are at the end of your very first pregnancy, and looking ahead to the reality of childbirth, there are many fears, expectations and wild imaginings, mostly from the stories of other women, (thanks mom…) that accompany it. Will it hurt? Will it take a long time? Can I do it…? The answer is Yes, Maybe, and ABSOLUTELY!

There are lots of different ideas, theories and philosophies about childbirth. If you’ve ever been on an online birth forum or chat room you are already aware of this: From planned cesareans to orgasmic births, epidurals to Hypnobabies, there is a pallet of opinions out there about childbirth. So how do you figure out what to believe?

For my part, I will always find my answer by going back to physiology: what does a body do during labour and why?

During the first stage of labour, your cervix slowly dilates from zero to ten centimeters, opening for the baby to come through. During the dilation, you will experience contractions, as the uterus squeezes and shortens its fibres to pull the cervix open. As my doula teacher told me many years ago, when I did my doula training, the contractions themselves aren’t painful; it’s the stretching of the cervix that hurts.

With any action there is a equal and opposite reaction. Invoking Newton’s third law may seem a bit of a stretch, but consider this: In natural, uninterrupted childbirth, the pain of contractions produces a hormonal response that soothes the pain and calms the mind.

Oxytocin: this hormone appears in high levels in the bloodstream during labour. It stimulates and supports uterine motility for a more progressive, efficient childbirth, but it does something else too. It contributes to prosocial behaviours and  feelings of relaxation, trust, and psychological stability. It also lowers the stress response, allowing the body to adapt to highly emotive situations. Childbirth certainly qualifies in this category, and your body accounts for it by flooding your bloodstream with this “love hormone”, as it’s sometimes called.

Beta-Endorphin: This hormone is one of your body’s most powerful painkillers, inducing feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

Stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline have the effect of blocking the production of oxytocin, thus inhibiting labour. This can happen when there is a perceived threat to the birthing mother, and the body slows and stops labour until safety can be reached. So, in natural, uninterrupted childbirth, your body will increase production of pro-labour hormones such as oxytocin, when feelings of love, care, tenderness and safety are present. When your body senses danger, your body knows to inhibit these hormones, to slow or stop labour. In short, labour is more efficient and progressive when the birthing mother is experiencing joy, connectedness, safety and wellbeing.

As an acupuncturist and doula, the stress connection fascinates me. One of the most powerful effects of acupuncture is its ability to lower the stress response. That’s why patients leave here feeling like they’ve had a holiday. We call it the “acu-buzz”. It engenders feelings of deep relaxation, ease and wellbeing.

This is one of the reasons I recommend weekly acupuncture leading up to childbirth. Using these principles, I apply acupuncture for cervical ripening, shortening the first stage of labour, and reduced perception of pain.

If you have any questions about your particular situation, or want to book an appointment, call acubalance for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I’m always available for a chat.