During its evolution, the female body developed to give birth—naturally. Our bodies have been equipped with the strongest and the most stretchable organs, the uterus with which we carry the baby and the breasts that produce food for them. Pregnancy is the time to connect with our body and with all the tools that it provides us.
Did you know that our body produces a natural analgesic? And that the baby gives a signal when (s)he is ready to be born? What about why the eyes of a newborn are wide open? Blame it all on the hormones!
Hormones regulate our bodies every day. During pregnancy and childbirth however, they work almost like the conductors wand. They enable our bodies to transform during pregnancy and assist the developing baby. During childbirth, both baby and mother’s hormones work together in harmony, just as the many instruments within a symphony orchestra do under the watchful eye of the conductor. They manage the increase in intensity of contractions throughout labor (the first stage of labor), escalating and culminating in the birth of the child (the second stage of labour), followed by the birth of the placenta (the third stage of labor). After birth, they encourage bonding and enable the mother to produce food for her newborn.
Oxytocin - the Hormone of Love and Bonding
The best-known instrument in the birth hormonal orchestra is Oxytocin. Oxytocin is involved from the very beginning. It is the hormone of love; it is released during hugging, kissing, sexual activity and orgasm. It is actively involved during fertilization as it stimulates the contraction of the male and female ducts, thus helping the semen to find its way to the egg.
It is also actively involved during birth. Due to its ability to reduce stress and increase trust and boding, it is the most important birth hormone as it helps in the reduction of fear and stress within mother and baby during the labor process. It also rhythmically contracts the uterus, thus helping baby and the placenta to be born.
Furthermore, Oxytocin helps the mother and baby to relax and bond after birth. It is highly important in establishing breastfeeding as it enables mother’s milk to “let-down.” It is also responsible for helping the uterus to contract after birth, thus preventing post-natal hemorrhages.
Melatonin is responsible for regulating the body's wake/sleep cycles. Darkness produces more melatonin which helps relax the body and prepare for sleep. Melatonin works with Oxytocin to make contrations for effective.
Another member of the Hormonal Birth Symphony orchestra is Relaxin. This hormone softens the ligaments and muscles in the pelvis and allows them to stretch and adapt to the baby. Moreover, it is also released within the baby, where it enables the tissues to relax, thus making it easier for baby to adapt to the birth canal.
Catecholamines: Adrenaline & Noradrenaline – Fight or Flight Hormones
These hormones inhibit the secretion of Oxytocin and can thus slow down, stop or even reverse the progress of labor. Normally, they are present in very low quantities at the beginning of the labor. However, their secretion significantly increases in the case of fear and discomfort. High levels of these hormones thus prolong labor. This is why a laboring woman should never be disturbed!
In the second stage of labor, just before birth, there is a sudden increase of these hormones. The mother feels a sudden rush of energy, the need to grasp onto something and to push. The “Catecholamine rush” stimulates several strong contractions that enable the baby to be born.
Large amounts of catecholamines are also released in the baby, protecting her/him from a lack of oxygen, as well as from stress during birth. It is because of catecholamines that newborns have their eyes wide open and are very attentive right after the birth, which allows them to bond with their mothers.
Beta-Endorphin - a Natural Painkiller
Beta-Endorphin, a natural opiate, is released after prolonged physical stress. Thus making it another important instrument within the Hormonal Birth Symphony. It reduces the sensation of pain and promotes the feelings of satisfaction, euphoria, and addiction (thus promoting a mutual dependence between the mother and baby). High levels of this hormone enable women to reach a different state of consciousness, a trans-like state that is characteristic of, and essential for a smooth delivery. The same hormone is also released within baby; it helps to relieve stress and pain while passing through the birth canal.
Beta-Endorphin is further excreted in the mother’s milk, thus encouraging the interdependence of the mother and baby and their mutual satisfaction.
Prolactin – “The Parent’s Hormone”
Beta-Endorphin triggers the release of the last player within the hormonal orchestra—Prolactin. This facilitates lactation and prepares the baby’s lungs and heart for the life outside the womb.
Prolactin is also known as “the mother’s hormone” or the hormone of submission and surrender, as it stimulates mothers to care for their newborn’s needs. Recent studies have also shown that the newborn’s crying induces the production of Prolactin within the father, who then acts on his need to protect and provide for the family, which is why it is known also as ”the father’s hormone.”
Do Not Disturb the Orchestra!
If the mother allows the Hormonal Birth Symphony to occur in a harmonious fashion, has the appropriate support (e.g. her partner, friend, midwife, doula, etc.) is able to surrender to the birth experience, to listen to her body, and is free to move around, then some women do not describe their feelings – although intense – as painful. Some even describe birth as orgasmic (cf. the movie: Orgasmic Birth: The Best-Kept Secret by Debra Pascali - Bonaro). It is this type of birth experience that empowers women.
On the other hand, fear, discomfort and various medical interventions disrupt the hormonal balance. Such feelings increase the secretion of Catecholamines and decrease the secretion of the Oxytocin and Beta-Endorphin. The birth thus slows down, the mother becomes frightened, her muscles get tense, her pain threshold lowers – and the whole experience becomes painful.
Cope With Your Fears and Surrender!
It is therefore extremely important to face your fears and leave them behind prior to childbirth. With a few simple techniques you can learn to re-direct your attention and accept birth as a new and intense experience, one in which you can enjoy. You can hire a doula to address all your fears and teach you these techniques. A doula can also accompany you through this experience. Only in a supportive and trusting environment will you be able to truly relax and surrender to the magic of the birthing experience.
Childbirth is a unique and sacred event in the life of the family, as birth is not only that of the newborn, but of a mother, a father and the family. Birth is a rite of passage assisted by the hormonal orchestra that prepares these individuals to bond and build the foundation for their family. This is yet another reason why we have to give birth the appropriate appreciation and respect it deserves. Without disturbing it, we allow the natural hormonal symphony to lead the process. This gives the new family the freedom not only to enjoy the rite of passage that is birth, but also to become empowered through the process.
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