In the Courier Mail on the 14th July 2009 there was an article titled “Epidural Epidemic– No labour pain, no bond gain”.
It reported the comments of Dr Walsh, an associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University in Britain who stated that more women should be prepared to endure the pain of labour because anaesthetic drugs used to diminish the pain and increase the comfort of women undermine the bonding process built into a natural birth.
He described labour as a ‘rite of passage’ and a ‘purposeful and useful thing’ for women, effectively preparing them for the demands of motherhood.
What a refreshing approach – I have expressed exactly those sentiments in my book The Essence of Woman.
My focus however, was not so much on the notion that women should endure the pain so that ‘the benefits….prepar(e) a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby’, as expressed by Dr Walsh, but rather that nature has inbuilt into the birthing process certain triggers that initiate a crucial series of actions that support best mothering ability and best baby survival capacity. In other words, birthing sets in place biological responses to ensure that mothering and early infant survival rates are optimized.
In fact, nature has cleverly designed the birthing process so that in a natural birth, biological responses chemically, hormonally and psychologically drive the mother to strive for better opportunities in life than she herself had. This is called good ‘old-fashioned’ evolution – and it is nature’s way of ensuring that each generation experiences life in a more optimum way than the generation that went before.
The means by which nature sets the evolutionary drive in place is largely through the quality of mothering. The primary strategy is known as the ‘bonding process’ a which occurs largely at birth due to a cascade of hormones that inflow into the mother’s bloodstream in response to the passage of the baby through the birth canal. The main chemicals involved are the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, which promote bonding and the desire to breast feed, and the neuro-chemical endorphin, which triggers a pleasure/bliss response.
The hormones, at their highest during labour, effectively reduce pain by increasing the mother’s responsiveness and acceptance of her baby – oxytocin not only leads to stronger contractions and therefore a lower risk of internal bleeding, but it also stimulates waves of bliss generating what can only be described as the beginnings of a passionate love affair with her baby.
Endorphins are calming and pain-relieving hormones that people produce in response to stress and pain. The level of this natural morphine-like substance may rise toward the end of pregnancy, and then rises steadily and steeply during unmedicated labors. (Most studies have found a sharp drop in endorphin levels with use of epidural or opioid pain medication.) High endorphin levels during labor and birth can produce an altered state of consciousness that helps women flow with the process, even when it is long and arduous. Despite the hard work of labor and birth, a woman with high endorphin levels can feel alert, attentive, and even euphoric as she begins to get to know and care for her baby after birth. Endorphins may play a role in strengthening the mother-infant relationship at this time. A drop in endorphin levels in the days after birth may contribute to the "blues" that many women experience at this time.
On the other hand adrenaline can also affect a birth. Adrenaline is the "fight or flight" hormone that humans produce to help ensure survival. Women who feel threatened during labor (for example by fear or severe pain) may produce high levels of adrenaline. Adrenaline can slow labor or stop it altogether. Earlier in human evolution, this disruption helped birthing women move to a place of greater safety.
Too much adrenaline can cause problems in labor and birth by:
• causing distress to the unborn baby
• causing contractions to stop, slow, or have an erratic pattern, and lengthening labor
• creating a sense of panic and increasing pain in the mother leading providers to respond to this problem with caesareans and other interventions.
A calm and trusting approach to the impending birth, feeling supported by loved ones and a strong sense of confidence that the labour will be OK, avoiding disturbances, such as unwelcome people or noise and uncomfortable procedures and stimulation of erogenous zones prior to labour ensure that sufficient oxytocin will overcome the excess production of adrenaline.
Under the influence of this hormonal cascade, Mum feels euphoric, touching and gazing at the baby in a bubble of ecstasy and love. The baby responds to the touch by relaxing and regaining a sense of deep safety following the gruelling and painful journey down the birth canal. The more the baby relaxes the more blood circulates freely to the various parts of the body, initiating and triggering the life support systems that are crucial to her post-natal existence.
As Dr Walsh so rightly states, “Emerging evidence shows that normal labour and birth prime the bonding areas of the mother’s brain more that caesarean or pain-free birth”. Furthermore, there is new hard evidence that supports his statement that natural birth prepares a woman for motherhood.
As discussed in my book The Essence of Woman, a woman’s brain is dramatically changed during the labouring process. Research demonstrates that due to the inflow of high levels of hormones, including adrenaline, a woman lays down extra neuronal circuitry that wasn’t there before the birth. These extra brain circuits equip the mother with the capacity for coping with the new demands that having an infant, solely reliant upon her, brings.
His final call was to recommend the National Health Service in Britain to abandon pain relief strategies and instead to encourage women to use natural pain relief methods such as yoga,, hypnosis, massage support from their partners, hydrotherapy and birthing pools.
In the birthing chapter in The Essence of Woman you will read a number of other ways that you can maximize the birthing experience so that it supports evolution rather than devolution.
Needless to say Australian birthing experts labeled Dr Walsh’s comments as dangerous. There is an entrenched view in Australian medical circles that needs swift revision. Currently statistics indicate that 30% of births are caesarean.
That means that there are many children out there who are being deprived of their natural birth-right to optimum health and well-being, designed by nature to ensure not only the survival of the human race but its ongoing evolutionary ‘thrival’.
If you would like to obtain a copy of my book The Essence of Woman go to essenceofwoman.com/