Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gentle Birth is a Boon for Mom & Baby

I just took a webinar at by Sarah Buckley, MD. It was on the hormonal cocktail that happens during undisturbed birth. The hour and a half I spent listening to Dr. Buckley expound on what we, as mammals need to birth was amazing.

I'm no newbie to Dr. Buckley's work... I've read her book, "Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering" and have read her website as well. Unfortunately I missed her at the Trust Birth Conference... there were so many great sessions to choose from! This was the first time I've been able to hear her speak, however.

This hormonal cocktail doesn't happen the way it is supposed to in a normal hospital birth. Why? Because like other mammals, we need privacy, we need to feel safe and we need to feel unobserved. What do they do in the hospital? People come in and out constantly, we're in an unfamiliar place with strange people and smells, and we are under constant observation. Having birthed under those conditions, I know what it feels like. It is amazing we can birth at all! In fact, the one time my birth went quickly in the hospital was during my last birth, when everyone left the room except my doula, who was napping. While at the time I didn't appreciate being alone, my body sure did because I went from 5 cm to pushing in a very short time.

The hormonal cocktail that we get during undisturbed labor begins with oxytocin. Oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone, is present during orgasm, late pregnancy, labor, the immediate postpartum (when we have the highest levels ever) and when we breastfeed. Baby not only gets some of our oxytocin during labor, but she makes her own as well. High oxytocin levels immediately following birth allow mom and baby to fall in love and imprint on each other.

Endorphins also kick in, helping us deal with labor pain and to find pleasure in our baby. Ever wonder why we're willing to do this again and again? Endorphins make us feel good.

Catecholemines (epinephrine and norepinephrine) are excreted by our adrenal glands to initiate the fight or flight response. During labor, these hormones help us find the extra energy to push our babies out, and they initiate the fetal ejection response under optimal conditions. If conditions are not right, they may delay labor. Can you say "failure to progress?" FTP is one of the most common reasons physicians either perform cesarean sections or other interventions like breaking our waters, using vacuum extractors or cutting episiotomies.

Finally, prolactin kicks in. Sarah Buckley calls this the "tender mothering" hormone. It not only stimulates milk letdown, it helps us feel tenderness and caring for our newborn.

With an undisturbed, natural birth, both mom and baby are flooded with these hormones, helping labor to flow and birth the baby. They help us to bond with our new child and vice versa.

With a labor that is disturbed by others, we only get portions of this hormonal cocktail.

With a planned cesarean without any labor at all, we get even less. How will this affect us as parents? How will this affect our children as they adapt to life outside the womb and as they grow? Will it affect their relationships with others? What about when they are adults and having children of their own?

How much have we harmed the past couple of generations who never got undisturbed birth?


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