Labour is called labor for a reason, it’s tough to work and there’s no getting around it. However, if someone claimed that you could have comfortable and swift labor… you’d want to hear about it, right?
The first place to start is to understand some of the crazy, wicked, Yoda-smart hormones that your clever little system is capable of producing!
1. Oxytocin (the love drug)
If you’re pregnant, you’ve experienced this guy before…. Mr. Oxytocin, the love drug (cue: Barry White). He visits us during love-making and saunters back to pay us a visit when we’re in labor. Oxytocin contributes to the stimulation and ripening of the cervix, required for dilation during labor.
Oxytocin levels rise at the onset of labor, causing regular contractions. It’s these contractions that become stronger and more frequent, that eventually result in your baby being born. This wonder drug then makes us feel close to our babies and draws us to bond with them.
2. Beta-endorphins (natural painkiller)
Claimed to be as powerful as pethidine, you want these on your side.
Beta-endorphins (cue: Bob Marley) help to relieve pain and contribute to the ‘out of body’ feelings some women experience when they labor without drugs. These hormones also prime a woman’s body for the bonding between herself and baby post-birth.
3. Adrenalin (fight or flight hormone)
Also called catecholamines (cat-e-kol-a-meens), adrenalin is the ‘fight or flight’ hormone (cue: ACDC). This hormone is perfect if you encounter a zombie and you need to leg-it, fast! But, adrenalin production is not what you want for comfortable, swift labor.
Although needed at the end of labor - for the big push - For the first stage of labor, adrenalin is plain bad news and the production of it contributes to labor being long and painful. So, how do we keep adrenalin ‘at the gate’, until it’s needed?
When I’m supporting a birthing woman, I look to create a ‘nest’ for her. No, I’m not collecting twigs and shoelaces…. I’m talking about ensuring all her needs are met and that she feels both secure and calm. This will help negate the production of adrenalin.
Now that we know something about the hormones produced in labor, how do we use them to make labor as calm and comfortable as possible?
- Adopt rhythmic breathing
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Your breath IN will occur involuntarily but you might need to be reminded to release this breath as there’s a tendency to breathe in, clench, and fight the contraction.
- Bring some comforts from home
I was at birth once where mum and dad brought in a lamp, floor rug, and window dressings. I’m not kidding. No, I’m talking about your pillow, a nice photo, and your dressing gown. If you bring your entire home contents, the midwives will think you’re off your nut.
Bring a small array of creature comforts from home and the right hormones will thank you.
- Essential oils
When asked what birth smells like… I say vaginas because it just does. If this increases your vulnerability (and adrenalin production!), pop in some oil and diffuser sticks. Birth is naturally odorous so if you don’t like the idea of that - go hell-for-leather with the oils. A day spa is a tops place to birth in.
- Cool clothes & warm socks
Your face will get hot and your feet, cold. Use a cool wipe on your face and don some socks so you can remain on-task.
- A well-educated and supportive partner/doula
They’ll need to be clued-up on the below strategies and super-attentive to your needs.
- Plenty of electrolyte-rich fluids
Once you’re dehydrated, you won't hydrate easily with water. Bring several flavors of these. Dehydration can stall labor.
Diversion from adrenalin through the sense of touch:
- Heat packs
Heat reduces pain by up to 40%. Lie it across those two cute dimples on your lower back (sacrum), during a contraction. Take off after the contraction ends. The heat packs should be very warm but obviously not hot enough to burn! (chemically-activated heat packs are best, with their heat-limitation).
- The bath
Don’t get in too early and have plenty of fluids whilst you’re in there. A bath is a glorious place to labor, and birth in! (speak with your OB/midwife prior, if you hope for a water birth).
Usually, firm, strong, circular motions (during the contractions) at the sacrum work well. Talk with your support person about what you think you might like. If you don’t like massage ordinarily, you sure won't like it when you’re laboring.
Diversion from adrenalin through the sense of hearing:
- Encourage vocalisation
Maintain a rhythm. The breath out can be as noisy as you like, as long as you’re releasing all that tension.
The birthing instinct takes place in the primal part of our brain. Choose instrumental (only) music, to negate engaging the ‘newer’, language centers of the brain. Keep it primal.
- Shaker or stress balls
Totally weird, right? hear me out because this is really a thing…Some women bang a shaker rhythmically against their leg - they’re not mimicking Lola, the Showgirl from The Copacabana, rather it’s a percussive rhythm that can just help you get in the zone. Likewise, with the stress balls - used to tap against the wall. Match your volume to the intensity of your contractions.
Diversion from adrenalin through the sense of smell:
Put a few drops of 100% pure essential oil on a cloth and inhale with breaths through contractions. It’s pretty intense. Lavender’s good, but if it reminds you too much of your granny’s drawers, go for citrus.
Diversion from adrenalin through the sense of sight:
- Visual focus
You’ve got to be strongly visual for this one to work well. I’ve seen laminated peaceful photos, inspiring words, bible verses, mandalas, a small bunch of buds, and flowers. The lot. Whatever brings you to a place of visual focus. Hopefully, something that inspires you to do what you’ve come to do - get that kid outta there.
Diversion from adrenalin through movement:
- General movement produces endorphins in labor. There are loads of positions to try and your movement to get to each of these will benefit your hormone production. Move into positions that feel comfortable through contractions.
- Hospital resources
Most will carry their own bean bags, mats, and birth balls. Keep gravity working for you, the perfect hormones being released, and experiment away :)
Of course, there are clinical options out there to manage labor as well. All diversions in themselves. These include sterile water injections, gas, opiates, and epidurals. All options are open to you as a birthing mother. Take whatever you need for the experience to be positive for both you and your baby.
Remember, birth is a ‘fluid’ process. It can take many twists and turns. The outcome desired is a safe one for both mum and bub. Assign the right team around you, create that ‘nest’, get those hormones working for you, and enjoy the swiftest and most comfortable labor to bring your little wonder into the world.