Part II: Helping those birth hormone heroes
Updated: Jan 21
Welcome to part II of a mini-lesson on birth hormones! If you haven't read it yet, start here with part I so you understand how birth hormones work (together). Now we're going to dive right into the practical side of supporting birth hormones. What can you do to encourage, protect, and support these hormonal processes (as best as possible)?
Lamaze’s 6 Healthy Birth Practices can be a great guide for supporting physiologic birth, including the hormonal processes that go hand-in-hand. They also happen to be the foundation of the childbirth education I teach. There’s a reason I love the topic of hormones!
When it is safe to do so, of course. There are risks to unnecessary induction, so it is important to make informed decisions that have you, your baby, and your unique situation at the forefront of all decisions.
Most movement is helpful, but utilizing UFO (upright-forward-open) positions in labour and pushing can be extra productive—something we focus on in classes for a reason! Gravity is your friend, and will provide a helping hand to your hormones as well as providing a coping tool for you. [Sidenote: Endorphins can be stockpiled in pregnancy through regular physical activity! So, movement is also important in pregnancy for better coping in labour! Just 20-30 minutes a day (at once or staggered) 5 times a week is the current recommendation.]
They will help you feel more confident, calm, and relaxed. Do things that make you feel loved and safe: hug your support person, utilize positive touch (if tolerable), try nipple stimulation—it’s all oxytocin! Whatever works. Keep the birth space as safe, calm, and relaxing as possible, too. Minimize sensory overload from loud noises/talking, extra room visitors, bright lights, etc. Your space should feel as home-like as you can make it!
4. Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary.
Interventions can be stressful. Having a good foundation of understanding of your options, the processes of birth, and expectations about common interventions can help you to remain calm and stay on course if they do become necessary. In terms of medical pain relief interventions, try delaying (or avoiding) them—if you are able. Remember, if you feel stressed, your pain perception can intensify. Sometimes utilizing calming strategies first can work well enough that you might be feel the need for medical pain relief. But if you do? As long as you feel informed of the risks and benefits and confident during that process, medical pain relief might be exactly what you need to feel calm and cope, and you should not feel an ounce of guilt, even if it wasn’t part of your “plan.” Your birth=your choice. Always.
Again, gravity-neutral or forward positions can help the pushing stage be productive, keeping those hormones up where they need to be. When things are clicking, the “urge to push” (fetal-ejection reflex and Ferguson’s reflex) can do most of the hard work—you follow your body’s lead in when and how to push!
6. Keep your baby with you—it’s best for you, your baby, and breastfeeding.
Having immediate skin-to-skin will increase the flood of birth hormones, help with those bonding and caregiving feelings, help your uterus contract to birth the placenta and shrink, reduce your risk of PPH, and help with milk production and feeding.
Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe, maybe not. · Having a supportive medical care team before, during, and after your birth matters.
· Having open conversations about your preferences with your team matters.
· Understanding birth, no matter what kind of birth you hope for, matters.
· Knowing your options, even if you don't expect certain interventions, matters.
· Feeling empowered in ALL your choices matters.
· Having a positive experience and protecting the emotional aspect of birth matters.
We truly cannot know the path(s) birth will take, or if you will be able to experience this wonderful web of hormones as described in part I. But you CAN work to support that process—and it starts with early education. Advance-preparation is more than just reading books and articles like this. Taking comprehensive and immersive childbirth education means learning along with a group and from a trained professional, being able to ask questions, get information and answers, and gain skills, tools, and confidence to be an active participant in your birth. Education can be a big part of the equation in helping you feel calm, confident, and better able to cope with whatever curveballs birth might throw your way. Why NOT have help? Reference:
Buckley S. 2015. Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies and Maternity Care. Childbirth Connection, Washington, DC.