Oxytocin as a Safe Birth Activator
“…oxytocin functions rather like a system activator and often influences the release of other signaling substances such as opioids, serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Through these activations, different behavioural and physiological effects are facilitated and coordinated into adaptive patterns, which are influenced by the type of stimuli and environmental factors.”
Uvnäs-MobergK., PeterssonM. Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth, and healing. Z Psychosom Med Psychother 2005;51:57-80. [Article in German].
Oxytocin is a key hormone in the mother-making processes of birth and breastfeeding — which influence the regulation of the heart and mind communication through the vagal nerve complex. Regulation of the vagal nerve complex is the biological determinant for the quality of social contact in the otherwise normal human being (Porges). How well our oxytocin flows, we could say, is how well society functions.
Innate in the process of natural birth are:
- The awakening brain to the relationship and tasks of parenting
- Physiological processes connecting the birth giver’s heart to the brain function for nurturing
- The experience of spontaneity and the resulting growth in trust
- The power gained from facing fear and finding a way past it
- Breathing skills
- Body signal recognition
- An aware and awake baby after a physiologically normal childbirth (not one that is normal in the technological model which has the hormones reduced by medication or by the lack of labor)
- Oxytocin surges in birth and breastfeeding for both mother and child
Literally. The heart leads the brain, which releases the hormones. When you take the heart out of birth, a whole new set of trouble begins.
Improving society’s ability to function civilly and kindly brings up a new definition, therefore, for the question of safety in birth.
The old definition seems to include the techno-medical control of the natural process.
“Wait right there! The what control?”
Techno-medical — as compared to the physiological model of care. Another way to compare is medical vs. midwifery, but since some doctors value physiology more than some midwives, this division is a bit presumptive.
Author and sociologist, Robbie Davis-Floyd wrote a description of the Technological Model of Birth in The Journal of American Folklore. (Expressing her astute sense of humor.) Davis-Floyd describes the Technological Model as:
- Obstetrician focused
- Routine with procedures
- Birth is to be managed
- Rituals to draw birthing people into conformity with a dominant reality model
- Based on Rene Descartes’s body-as-machine mind-body separation
- Resulting in routine mother-baby separation
- Institution is more significant than woman
- Baby is seen as hospital product
Efficiency and de-humanization of birth is justified for the safety of the mother and baby. “You could die. The baby could die.”
However, the technological model has not proven to save lives. With America expressing one of the highest cesarean rates in the world, the most technological birth method, we would expect to see the lowest death rate to babies. Instead, the U.S. has a high rate of infant death — and a rising maternal death rate, with many causes being unpublicized side-effects of major surgery during childbirth.
So, to even begin to consider another approach, we need to clear our heads about the nature of safety in childbirth.
The natural process includes unknowns that frighten people into registering for a technological birth. Some unknowns that stress parents and providers alike may be:
- when labor will begin
- the amount of pain that may be felt in labor
- the length of time that labor takes, and
- whether there may be unforeseen complications.
One of the shortcomings of technologically-controlled birth is that complications still occur. Effects of interventions can include higher blood loss from major surgery, a lack of hormonal transformation, exposure to bacteria that is foreign to the mother, plus the lesser-known, but researched, effects of interventions on breastfeeding, suicide, and long-term health (diabetes, for instance). Drs. Michel Odent, Sarah Buckley and others do a great job bringing forward the issues of interventions on human behavior and health.
But isn’t it safe to be in the hospital, monitoring the baby and having a circle of experts around you? Fast driving is safer in the race track with a crew to care for the driver and car. The grade of the road, the degree of the curve, and the condition of the tires all need expert control and monitoring, too.
Birth is a little different. Safety is not obtained by control alone. The human body is not a “well-oiled machine” but a living organism with function far beyond mechanics.
And so emotional safety has been highly valued in the natural birth world. The fourth “P” of Psychology is added to Passenger, Passage and Powers to explain details in the birth process that the 3 Ps don’t fully explain. Our behavior as providers comes under examination for the good of the mother and child and their very important start to the primary human relationship. We ask then, how to behave both for the mother and baby and for meeting the requirements of safety.
So how do we protect birth and let it be spontaneous at the same time? Rather than try to control the process, let’s look to control ourselves and our influences within the birth environment.
Safe practice by definition is a structure of behavior upholding a standard of care. How much do we care what parents want at birth? How much pride do we take in the equipment and even the building design itself? But mainly, this is about our screening or triage, monitoring and treatment or referral.
By nurturing the environment to suit the mother’s physiology, the creative process of birth can be free to express. Birth is very much also an expression of hormonal function!
The environment of safety can support the transition from maiden to mother when the birth giver receives support for the inner psychological process. And the environment can support the transition of fetus to newborn through protection of the hormonal release and its effect on lung and brain readiness for birth. Stimulating the maternal forebrain to process logic may actually be dangerous in birth, seems to warn Dr. Michel Odent, the oracle at Primal Research. Quiet, dark, privacy and emotionally nurturing (but not incessant murmuring) may be just the list to include to increase the safety of birth.
Hormones which allow spontaneous birth also allow the transition into motherhood — the state of activated nurturing of the helpless infant. All of us can nurture but not all of us have the chemical changes made in the brain of a person in labor. These are chemical. Suckling also creates hormonal changes and actual labor optimizes hormonal release.
Even a labor finished by cesarean includes more brain changes via birth hormones than can occur with no labor.
Spinning Babies® is involved in protecting birth by offering an approach to take the fear out of birth. Many women who choose an epidural or elective cesarean do so for fear of pain in childbirth. Not all, but many. Don’t, however, assume that many women would choose to skip labor. Most pregnant parents state they would try labor and if they found it manageable, would skip the intervention. A birthing parent’s intent is heard in this common response, “I’d like to go natural if I can…”
So let’s take the fear out of the unknown by offering an active approach to let the spontaneous release of hormones begin and carry through the process of birth.
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