Hormones in birth

Our bodies are amazing and how hormones react in pregnancy and birth is fascinating.

I believe it’s important to have more information about hormones in pregnancy and birth so that you can understand what on earth is going on in your body! To help you feel more empowered about birth and pain relief in birth.
Today I’m going to focus this article on hormones in birth because it’s a lot of information and I think it’s important to understand while you are preparing to birth your baby. And there is a lot that you can do to create and hold on to positive hormones in birth…

Like any habit that you are trying to form, in order for it to work for you, it needs practise. Let’s start with an imaginary situation that I’m sure you’re familiar with…

Imagine yourself at work. Doing something that you do every day, when something stressful happens. You panic. Your breath shortens, you feel really stressed. Your blood pressure increases. You can’t think straight. This is because in panic your sympathetic nervous system is preparing your body for fight or flight. But because you’re familiar with your working situation and can rely on your experience you calm yourself and when calm you can handle your situation.

But how did you calm yourself?

  • Did you take a few deep breaths?
  • Walk away from the situation?
  • Distract yourself and then come up with a solution?
One thing is certain. You can’t think straight when your body is full of adrenaline because all your blood has gone to your skeletal muscles ready to run or fight. But when you found your way around this and calmed down then you could think again.
Most women give birth only a handful of times during their life. So it’s more difficult to rely on past experience to reassure yourself. But you can inform yourself. You can assure yourself that your body is able to manage birthing your baby. You can use Oxytocin and its benefits to act as your natural pain relief. There are many ways that you can practise creating the hormone and holding on to it. And there are ways to keep adrenaline at bay.

Why is it important to keep the hormone Adrenaline at bay during the first stage of labour?

If adrenaline helps you to run from the Tiger then it should be great for mobilising my body to give birth. This is right in the second stage of labour when you need adrenaline to help you to birth baby. But in the first stage of labour you need to make sure that you keep calm and hold on to Oxytocin and build natural pain relief from endorphines. Why?
  • Fear can increase our levels of adrenaline
  • Being overly monitored can increase adrenaline and take away our attention on what is important to you.
  • Higher levels of the adrenaline hormone will send blood to your skeletal muscles to ready for fight or flight
  • The Uterus needs this blood to help the uterine walls to contract effectively. This action is not as effective when there is a surge of adrenaline
  • So if you are prepared and reassure yourself that you can manage the pressure and speed of your surges or contractions then you can hold on to Oxytocin

Oxytocin is the hormone of love. So how do you recreate it?

  • Create an environment that you feel comfortable in.
  • Play your favourite music.
  • Dim the lights (Oxytocin loves the dark)
  • Eat your favourite food
  • Have a bath
  • Use massage
  • Have sex
This is a great Instagram account that focuses on how to hold on to Oxytocin.

What happens when I have to leave home and go to hospital?

Sometimes labour can slow down when we leave our comfortable and familiar environment. At home you have full control over your surroundings whereas you may not feel the same level of comfort in hospital.
Thinking about this beforehand can help. Attending the hospital’s antenatal classes so that you can visit the delivery ward and talk to a midwife before you give birth can help you to figure out what you can do in that space to help you to relax. Seeing the birthing suite can help so that you can talk about the things that you want to use in the room. For example, do you need to bring your own birthing ball?

Many women get to hospital and totally forget their breathing practise, and feel overwhelmed.

That’s why a regular practise of yoga or meditation can help. I often say that getting out of your head and into your body can help. It brings yourself back in touch with your body to calm down and focus. That’s why after our breathing exercise in class we often practise some simple warm up exercises, such as shoulder rolls or wrist rolls. You could do them anywhere and they can help bring you back into the moment.
I know that it’s a completely different situation… but have you noticed that a kicker, like Johny Sexton, has a routine before he kicks a penalty? We also need a routine so that we can forget our doubts and fears and focus on letting our body birth our baby.

There are lots of ways to hold onto Oxytocin.

  • Hold on to that cocoon, by wearing dark glasses and a light scarf.
  • Allocate roles – For example, get your partner to answer any questions that you don’t need to. Or put your partner in charge of having your music ready.
  • Record a meditation or belly breathing script on to your phone to listen to.
  • Dance and move to your favourite music in between surges
  • Use your partner or the wall as a prop and practise hip circles to spiral baby down
  • Walk, ask that you not be overly monitored so that you can focus on moving through your surges.
  • Keep your energy up by eatings snacks and keeping hydrated
  • Use water, baths, showers
  • Massage and reassurance from your partner.
  • Breathing practise – belly breathing, sitali (cooling breath).

Why is that important?

The natural hormone, Oxytocin stimulates powerful contractions that help to thin and open (dilate) the cervix, move the baby down and out of the birth canal, push out the placenta, and limit bleeding at the site of the placenta. It’s not the same as the synthetic version Syntocinon. I recommend that you research the differences.

What other hormones naturally occur and help in childbirth?

Endorphins are naturally occurring opiates, similar to morphine and heroin. Like oxytocin, they mostly appear during sex, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Beta-endorphins reduce pain and suppress the immune system, which is important so that it doesn’t act ‘against’ your baby.
If you’re stressed during labour, that can make you release excessive beta-endorphins, which may inhibit oxytocin and slow things down. That’s why keeping things as calm as possible is a great thing in labour.

How to keep calm during labour?

It all comes back to the breath. You need to believe that your body is capable of both the amazing and the mundane. It knows how to give birth. It helps if you can tell yourself and believe:
  • I expect to feel pressure during labour.
  • I believe that my body is able to work through the surges.
  • I can use my mind to distract ourselves when we’re feeling under pressure.
  • I rest between surges or contractions.
  • I can focus and stay calm during surges by breathing evenly.

How to build a practise of breathing for birth?

Try out lots of different breathing techniques until you find what works for you:
  • Counting breath
  • Belly Breathing
  • Box breathing (using your fingers to trace your in and out breath)
  • Sitali breathing (cooling breath)
If you practise yoga weekly it can help you to try out different kinds of methods until you find one that works for you. It can also help you to breathe through discomfort, to keep breathing in poses that you need to hold so that you can strengthen your body and get ready to give birth.

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Look after yourself 

You are growing a human being!