,If you are an experienced parent, you can relate to the witching hour(s). However, most soon-to-be parents have little idea what that phrase really means. No, your child does not turn into a Halloween witch. They do however, witch. Simply put, there will potentially be a few hours a day where you can do little, if anything, to soothe your baby’s unpleasant mood. Generally, the witching hour(s) happen in the early evening, most often along side the sunset. Crying, fussing and general discontent are all quite common in newborns during this time. Why do they do this? Unknown. I know, not the best answer, but the closest to real answer I can state is that as babes transition from womb to earth their whole physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health shifts too. This is a BIG transition for a wee soul.
The good news, you have done nothing wrong or have caused this so-called witchy behaviour. Another good thing is that this phase ends, relatively quickly. Most babies outgrow this phase by 12-14 weeks of age. That said, as a breastfeeding, baby wearing mama of three, this stage was not pleasant. I remember dreading it. At certain points in my postpartum it would borderline induce anxiety. Gah. That feeling sucks. I remember sweating, crying and a feeling of fatigue coupled with total physical and emotional overwhelm. Again, it’s not your fault, it’s biological within infants and it DOES end!
During the early days of postpartum, you are literally in survival mode. You hear about it right? A shower? What’s that? Eating or doing laundry, what? It’s true. However, it isn't tangible until you are living it. Remember, newborns eat roughly every 2 hours. Often for a half hour+ at a time. That means you are potentially feeding your baby for 6 to 12 hours a day, everyday, all day. I’m not writing this to scare you. However, knowing this ahead of time is helpful as it helps align your expectations. Expect to be tired, overwhelmed and feel moments of joy along side this.
So, how does one survive the witching hours? Surrender! BREATHE & surrender to the fact that you will likely be unable to soothe your baby. Hold them, breathe, talk to them, breathe, have a bath with them, breathe, walk with them, breathe, carry them, breathe, offer them skin on skin and…ASK FOR HELP. Allow other people to participate in the witching hours by doing the same tasks above. When it ends, drop your shoulders and do a quick check-in with your physical and emotional self to see where you are holding tension. Release it, have a bath, shower or some yoga to rinse yourself clean of the witchy energy.
Good luck mama/papa-to-be.
Somewhere between 35 and 37 gestation the topic of GBS testing will arise. What is GBS? Well, Group B Streptococcus, or group B strep (GBS) is part of normal vaginal flora; all female humans carry it at some point in their lifetime. According to research, the gastrointestinal tract acts as a reservoir for GBS and is most likely the source of vaginal colonization during pregnancy. In the 1970’s GBS was a leading cause of infection and neonatal morbidity (disease,) and mortality (death,) which is why this test is offered today.
The test is a simple vaginal-rectal swab. If you are under the care of a midwife, they will likely explain how to do the swab and encourage you to do it yourself. If so, you can scurry your little butt of to the loo to administer it. If you are under the care of a physician, they quite often encourage you to be more passive and lay down while they themselves do the swab. However, you can advocate for yourself and say no, and do it yourself in private. Does it hurt? NO, not generally. It’s nothing like a pap if that’s what your thinking!
Once the swab has been completed it is sent to a lab to be cultured and tested for GBS. You're either positive or negitive. You’re likely thinking, okay so what does that really mean? Well, GBS if left untreated can transfer to the baby and cause health issues, remember above….the leading cause of morbidity (disease) or mortality (death) in the 1970’s.
Let’s break this down so you don’t freak out because we are no longer in the 1970’s! My goal is to encourage informed choice and empowerment, remember. The Ontario Association of Midwives has taken the data and translated it into simple terms. I'm going to borrow their written details below. The prevalence of GBS positive, meaning the number of people who test positive lingers between 10%-35%. Of that, between 40%-50% of babies born are colonized by GBS, of that 1%-2% of the 40%-50% will develop something called Early Onset Group B Streptococcus Disease (EOGBSD). Of that 1%-2% of babies with EOGBSD, there is a 5%-9% mortality rate.
Yes, babies sometimes pass away. It’s terrible and unfair and for anyone who has experienced this, I’m sorry. However, I’m going to present this from a bigger picture for all the first-time parents out there who are either considering a GBS test, or know they are positive. I am aware that the language around this subject is hella freaky!
Using the stats above, if you were to apply this to a group of 17 500 – 50 000 pregnant people:
Pneumonia (9% - 23%)
Meningitis (7% - 12.5%)
Still hella scary? Hopefully not as much. The numbers and risks are really low, but they are there nonetheless and the results can be devastating. However, I’d like to brush on prevention as solutions are much more helpful than fear. Historically, strategies such as oral maternal antibiotics, an intramuscular injection of penicillin or a vaginal disinfection with chlorhexidine were administered and tested. While the above had some success, none were statistically significant enough to bring it into full scale evidence-based practice.
Those of you who are more holistically minded. Probiotics, which affect gut health, have been shown to prevent GBS growth and MAY be a positive prevention with little to no side effects, therefore safe (AOM, 2010). Keep in mind there is an absence of research and therefore a lack of efficacy data. You can make your own call there, but I do remember my care providers talking about good strains of probiotics such as kimchi, kombucha and yogurts to help keep GBS levels normal. Alternatively, Genestra makes a clean line of oral probiotics.
Moving forward, it is recommended that all pregnant people be offered Group B Strep testing between 35-37 weeks gestation and a re-screening if 5 weeks has passed since their last test and they have not delivered. Today, the most common way to treat people who are GPS positive in Canada (note, not all industrialized countries even test for GBS) is with antibiotics during labour. This can be done both in hospital or during a home-birth. There are essentially three approaches to antibiotic use.
1) Universal screening, meaning everyone completes the GBS test and those who are positive receive antibiotics during labour.
2) Risk-factor screening, meaning anyone who tests positive AND presents with one of the following risk factors should be offered antibiotics:
pre-term labour (before 37 weeks gestation)
prolonged rupture (18 hours +) of the membranes (water)
or a maternal fever
also offered to any person who has delivered a previously infected baby
3) Any one who declines a GBS test is considered “unknown” and those who develop the above risk factors should be offered antibiotics during labour.
The approach isn’t perfect, and "women should be informed that there is limited research upon which to compare the relative efficacy of this approach to a screening strategy, nor are there well-designed randomized controlled trials that compare this approach against no treatment" (AOM, 2010.) You can test positive for GBS AND then test negative a week/day later. You might also only have GBS in your colon and not your vagina based upon the current testing standards. Needless to say, the use of antibiotics is a point of contention for many. Some care providers are much more inclined to frame antibiotic use from a universal perspective, whereas some are more comfortable practicing from a risk-factor screening model.
There are so many variables to consider as part of informed care. For instance, if a GBS positive person, or any person for that matter, declines antibiotics and tested positive or was "unknown" and the baby experiences delays during normal transition in the immediate post-partum, experiences any fever or signs of infection, they WILL most likely be treated as if they have EOGBS disease. That means your infant receives IV antibiotics for 48h in the nicu and potentially further testing which can be very invasive.
I’d really encourage you to do some deeper research. There are certain risks/benefits to not using antibiotics and with using antibiotics during labour. Resistance, postnatal thrush, mobility issues in labour etc. There are also variables that you cannot predict, such as what happens if you test positive, but didn't have tine to have antibiotics administered? There are also things to consider such as what happens if you decline a test an a baby shows symptoms etc. This published article from the Ontario Association of Midwives is detailed, but it will help you understand the full risk/benefit picture.
In the end, you as a pregnant person, must balance out the benefits and risks to any procedure, test or prenatal screening. Taking into account the short and long term benefits and risks, many of which I do not discuss in this blog. As always, be sure to have a detailed conversation with your care provider about the whole picture as I can in no way replace medical advice or current community standards. The point of this blog was to simply introduce you to GBS and a few of the complexities that may present themselves around this topic.
With gratitude and gumption,
I found this article on-line years ago. I cannot recall the author. However, the recommendations and details still apply years later.
2. Be Assertive About Your Care
Stand up for yourself and your baby! Don't accept anything less than wonderful care. Don't be bullied or pressured into any tests or procedures that you are not sure of, or out of anything that you feel would be best for you and your baby. Become your own best advocate. You do not have to do anything you don't want to agree to.. YOU are the employer, and they are your employee. If you are not satisfied, speak up and try to work things out; often there is a compromise position that can be worked out. Do whatever you need to, to feel safe and respected and listened to. Your baby is depending on you!
3. Research Pregnancy And Childbirth Issues
Become an informed health consumer. There are many controversies in childbirth care, and even the experts disagree strongly among themselves about some things. You will not get the same care if you go to different providers; you'd be surprised how much care decisions will differ between providers! Research pregnancy and childbirth issues so that you know what you why a proposed procedure or intervention may be beneficial or harmful, what the trade off of risks and benefits are, and what impact the decision may have on your and your baby. Women who are more involved in their care tend to have happier and more satisfying birth experiences. Form a partnership with your provider and share responsibility for your care.
4. Be Proactive; Practice Excellent Nutrition And Exercise Habits
Taking care of your baby doesn't start at birth; it starts long before then! Do everything you can ahead of time to prevent problems from happening. Utilize prevention now instead of intervention later! Get serious about minimizing stress in your life, get regular exercise, and practice excellent nutrition. Remember that everything you are doing now may be influencing your baby. You don't have to be absolutely perfect, but do work hard towards being as proactive as possible. Taking great care of your self now can prevent or minimize lots of problems later on. This is one of the most powerful tools for a healthy pregnancy and birth you have, and it's entirely under your control. Really work hard to do the absolute best job you can!
5. Choose A Midwife For Your Care If Possible
Strongly consider a midwife for your care. You can watch my informative video below to learn a ton of details! Midwives have a much lower rate of intervention, take more time to talk to you about your concerns and choices, and are much more likely to be size-friendly. In some studies, you cut your chances for a caesarean nearly in half by choosing a midwife, and strongly lower your chances for an episiotomy too. OBs are appropriate if you are high-risk (pre-existing diabetes, heart problems, etc.) but they are mostly trained in birth abnormalities and not how best to foster a normal vaginal birth. Midwives are the expert in normal birth, and are much more likely to work with you to help prevent complications, take time to listen to your fears, and give you lots of choices and alternatives in your care.
6. Hire A Doula To Assist You And Your Partner
Consider hiring a professional labour support person ("doula") to help both you and your partner through the labour and birth. Doulas are especially helpful for first-time moms, and for women with special concerns, such as those with a lot of birthing fears, a history of negative contact with doctors, a prior difficult birth, a past history of abuse, or a history of infertility/pregnancy loss. The presence of a doula is known to cut the caesarean rate significantly, lower the rate of women needing drugs during labour, increase the chances for breastfeeding success, and improve maternal satisfaction with the birth. Although many fathers fear that hiring a doula would displace them or make them feel uncomfortable at the birth, a doula actively works to support both the father and the mother during the birth. Fathers who were initially dubious about hiring a doula almost universally report a high level of satisfaction with that choice afterwards; they were surprised at how much it helped, and at how much they appreciated extra emotional and physical support. Doulas are experts in birth, and have many 'labour tricks' they can suggest to help if the going gets tough. You do not have to be committed to a completely all-natural birth in order to hire a Doula; Doulas support your birthing preferences, and work to help you achieve the birthing experience you desire
7. Attend Non-Hospital Childbirth Classes
Choose childbirth education classes that occur outside of the hospital setting as part of your preparation for birth. Although you will pay more for these classes, you are more likely to get exposure to a wider variety of viewpoints and choices, and more in-depth assistance in methods of coping with labour contractions. Although some hospital classes are good, many hospital-based classes are simply exercises in how to be a good, compliant patient and not question your treatment.
Failure to progress. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOCG) it’s the number one reason c-sections are preformed. Not because the baby isn’t doing well, not for medical issues that reside with the mother, but failure to progress. What that means is that many c-sections are preformed because people don’t produce “sufficient” contractions to dilate the cervix.
Read that again, our bodies, our perfectly designed bodies, don’t produce “sufficient” contractions to dilate the cervix enough to birth a child. I’ve always had a hard time wrapping my head around this. No other species on earth suffers from this, none. So, what gives?
Well, birth isn’t just a physical process. It’s a mental, emotional and spiritual one also. Under our current model(s) of care, we often birth like animals in a zoo. Not always though, some care providers and birth settings are working hard to remedy this, but often, we do. Think about it, birth has become more of performance; women are watched. Yet, many educators, doctors, midwives and nurses’ opinions state we’re off the mark as a species.
Let’s keep it simple, we are mammals. In a low-risk pregnancy, women really don’t need a lot. For sure, they need a well trained watchful medical eye, but that’s about it. However, the space and environment that people labour under, matters. The more calming the space, the more labouring people can focus and stay in control of their contractions. However, currently most people leave their safe homes (calm), drive in a car, enter triage (where all sorts of people go,) labouring women, pregnant people who are ill, pregnant people who are miscarrying etc…think about it (not calm). That’s just one simple transition from home to hospital. It may sound simple, but a lot has the potential to be happening and all the “happening” can affect your birth. How would you feel listening through the curtain to the person in the next bed who is miscarrying a child? It’s tough.
Labour is like sex, well more like a female orgasm. You need to be the right mind frame, you need to feel safe, you need to feel comfortable in your vulnerability. You need to be with someone who you trust. You need to have minimal interruptions, so you can find your grove, your rhythm and enjoy the flow…until you reach the point of climax. BANG! Essentially labour is the same, you need to find your rhythm (and keep it), your grove, feel safe, accept your vulnerability until you reach full dilation and your baby is born.
Let’s go back and look at how we as a species are birthing again. Essentially, we are like animals in a zoo. Being watched, judged, told what to do etc. We go from home to hospital and instantly the rhythm of labour shifts. We are asked questions (often while contracting), asked to lay down etc., etc., etc. Yet, we expect people to produce “sufficient” contraction under these conditions.
Now, I’m not saying that hospitals are bad. They are bad ass agents who serve sick people. They save lives. However, the rules, protocols and such have the potential to interfere with the rhythm of labour. Rhythm & relaxation are two components that produce sufficient contractions. You don’t need someone interrupting you by asking questions mid contraction, you don’t need the lights being turned on, you don’t need a cervical check every hour, you don’t need…and the list of protocols goes on. I’m writing this so you as a potential mama, simply, know.
Now that you’re aware, let’s talk about what to do with this knowledge. Again, hospitals are bad ass agents who serve people. You are a person. If you are planning a hospital birth, or even a home birth, this is critical information. You never know if, or when, a medical transfer will arrive. For instance, my 3rd baby was our 3rd planned homebirth, turned hospital delivery. Meh.
I digress. When you leave your home, you can expect your contractions may slow down, or potentially even stop. That is because your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual situation is changing, dramatically. It is entering a (potentially) unknown space, with people you have never seen and being asked to perform a task (labour) while being watched, asked to talk, provide a sample of blood, lay down for a cervical check, a heart monitor read etc. It’s a massive interruption to your cozy established rhythm. Remember, trust, vulnerability, safety and comfort all lead to your rhythm, rhythm lead to your baby, just like sex, but the big “.O.”
However, don’t fear. You can control many of the things that will come your way. Triage is often coo coo bananas, but once you are settled into a labour and delivery room, SET the SPACE. Plan it. As part of your plan, my advice, ask the care team to only ask you questions between contractions, ensure your support team is aware so they can advocate for you too. In addition, ask them for an hour of alone time to establish your rhythm; lower the lights. Go back to what you were doing at home. Walk, talk, breathe, visualize, vocalize, move, sway, moan etc. Connect with your baby. Welcome your labour back and relax into your new setting. It’s an assimilation period.
Once your labour has established itself again, it is important to keep the space. By space I mean safe, calm, limited interruptions to the person in labour, dimly lit etc. FYI, low lights = more oxytocin = stronger contractions = more feelings of love = faster birth…most times. You got this. Now that you know what has the potential to happen during your transition to triage, you can plan and accept the process.
What causes failure to progress is a debated topic. Medical interventions, the hospital setting, fear of birth, lack of prenatal education, unwilling to accept the process, previous trauma, the list goes on. No judgement! However, many care providers agree with the above (that setting the space matters) and there is plenty of research to support it. Many providers are striving and making headway in all sorts of birth settings. If you’re Canadian, check out the Markham Stouffville Hospital…or maybe don’t, you might be jealous and sad.
Keep it simple, humans have been doing this for eons and birth still looks this way in many industrialized nations. Less is more while walking through a low risk labour. Less interventions, less talking, less lighting, less interruptions. Honour the space that a woman is in. Support her by offering words of calm encouragement, simply holding her hand or wiping her face with a cool (pick your favorite essential oil) infused cloth. Go back to the basics…
Gestate well loves,
This topic may be a point of contention for many, but it is something that deserves being aired out. I’m just going to go a head and say it. The last thing a labouring person (potentially you) needs in the delivery room is a support person who has no clue what is going on. Whether it be your mother, partner, husband, sister, aunt etc. Let me repeat it. The LAST thing a labouring person needs in their space is a support person who has no clue what is going on.
Now, lets set a few things straight. I’m not saying that a grandmother or father shouldn’t be in the delivery room. No, indeed they should be there, if that is what the mother wants. However, let’s unpack this a little bit.
Labour is no joke, it’s hard emotional work, hard physical work and spiritually a transformation is taking place as well. When you are learning to do new things, you need leadership; we all know that the type of leadership makes a world of difference.
There are good leaders and bad leaders. In labour, people need a leader with a clean emotional slate, someone with support skills, someone who is comfortable enough and not phased by labour that they could eat a sandwich during the process. I don’t advise eating a sandwich if you are a support person unless you’re on a break though.
If your main support person is your mother, fine. However, be mindful of what she is bringing into the room. Her energy will set part of the tone. Consider this, what type of birth did your mother have? What type of birth are you trying to have? Do your birth ideas align? Same, if your main support person is your partner/father, fine, but have they actually attended a live birth before? If not, how do they know how to support you? Personally, it's an unrealistic task to ask of someone. If you say "how are you going to support me" they are likely to reply with "by doing whatever you want/need." The trouble and truth of it is, they don't know what you need. It's impossible to know unless you have experience.
What often happens is they do their best, they really do. They try and support you, but often times, upon looking back, most people say that they didn't really know what to do and wished they had additional support and continuity of care. Think about it, it's a BIG ask to put your sole trust in someone with little or zero experience. My advice, have a honest conversation about whether your main support person feels comfortable advocating for you, feels comfortable navigating the medical institution, feels comfortable enough to eat a sandwich while watching you crown, is able to detach emotionally and provide objective support. The conversation may surprise you. This is an excellent book, The Birth Partner, for you and your main support person to read.
In addition, when working with clients as a labour doula, one benefit is that I am not emotionally involved on an intimate level. I mean shit gets intimate, fast, but I’m not bothered when a labouring mama cries out in pain. The difference is, I or the medical staff can suggest a new position after a long labour stall and she will likely comply, whereas if her partner were to ask, she will likely tell him to fuck off. Moreover, partners and grandmothers are blinded by love. Their emotions often cloud the support that the labouring mama really needs.
Want to know more about a doula? Watch below...
The point being, women in labour need leadership, the last thing they need is sympathy or empathy from a bleeding hearted grandmother/partner. Don’t get me wrong, women need sympathy, love, empathy, but that only goes so far. As a doula, I have the privilege of giving all of the above, but you also have the ability to coach the family. To help them through the difficult moments by holding space, by encouraging them, by believing in them, but more importantly, you do this from a clean emotional and objective state. I am honoured to hold clients hand, to wipe their tears and to witness the magic of birth.
If you think you can't afford a doula, or find continuity of care through a provider, do your research, the options in your community may surprise you. Many hospitals have doula programs that are free, many local doulas work on a sliding scale, sometimes even free or for a trade in services. Don't be shy to reach out and ask....all people in labour deserve to have a grounded, humble and supportive guide.
Oh, you’re pregnant, how lovely. Can I ask what you're having? Oh, you just wait girl, labour is a bitch, that shit hurts. Okay, next...mine was 48 hours of pure hell. We have all been subjected to horror stories. It’s as if women like to out play one another. Seriously, when was the last time you hear a positive birth story? Have you ever? If you haven't, ask me, I have hundred's to share.
My wish for future birthing women, is that the use of fearful and non-supportive language would stop. Does labour hurt, yup, but pain is subjective. Labour is intense as f%#, but so are a lot of things we mindfully choose to do in life. Um, exercise, say running a marathon for instance, or hiking, or fill in the blank with anything physical activity, really. Crap, sometimes mowing my lawn hurts. However, the point is that the way we frame birth and the language we use around it – hurts.
I’m going to present you with two scenarios and you can see how a few simple words can impact a situation.
No joke, this is a real situation I’ve been in as a labour doula.
Eve is a first-time mother, she is in labour and having a little boy. Eve and her partner, Cedric, are very excited and open minded with their birth plan. They have taken a prenatal class and feel ready to cope with labour with their learned breathing techniques. After a morning of labouring smoothly at home, contractions start to come closer together – 4 minutes apart. Eve and Cedric know they are supposed to go to the hospital because their childbirth educator stressed that when active labour starts, they should consider transitioning to the hospital. Now they are very excited.
When they arrive, they are greeted by a friendly staff member that states the following. “Welcome to the birthing centre, I can see you are working hard with your contractions, we will get you into triage soon.” As Eve and Cedric settle into triage, they are greeted by the nurse who is accommodating and encouraging. When she sees Eve start a contraction she encourages her to breath through it and to move her body physically to help cope with the pain. The nurse asks them the typical triage questions, i.e. have you been out of country? Around anyone with an illness? Any allergies? However, another contraction starts, and Eve needs to concentrate and breathe through it stay in control. This time she relies on Cedric for help by squeezing his hand. Cedric calmly encourages her by stating, “good job, you’ve got this, breathe with me, in and out, in and out…” until the contraction ends. When it is time for a cervical exam, the nurse asks Eve to lay back and let he know when she is ready. The nurse confirms permission before proceeding with the exam by stating “You’re going to feel a touch, are you ready?” Eve’s labour keeps progressing and contractions are staying stable and steady in intensity.
Back to the birth plan. Eve and Cedric are planning to use as few interventions as possible but are open to what Mother Nature directs. Keep in mind Eve is a low-risk pregnant person; she really can choose anything she likes. The triage nurse is supportive of this and provides a few tips for Cedric to help Eve cope before they transfer to a labour and delivery room where Eve and Cedric will meet a new nurse and labour away until their baby is born.
No joke, this is a real situation I’ve been in as a labour doula….
Let’s pick up here… After a morning of labouring smoothly at home, contractions start to come closer together – 4 minutes apart. Eve and Cedric know they are supposed to go to the hospital because their childbirth educator stressed that when active labour starts they should consider transitioning to the hospital. Now they are very excited. When they arrive, they are greeted by a friendly staff member that stated the following. “Welcome to the birthing center, how can I help you?”
Eve “I’m in labour and would like to be admitted to the hospital.” Staff member, “first time mom, so you think you’re in labour, we’ll see.” Eve and Cedric enter triage and Eve is asked to lay down. The triage nurse does need to monitor the baby and get a read on where things are with labour – all normal. When Eve starts to have a contraction the triage nurse is actively asking her questions about her health history and basic intake questions. Again, all normal, but no words of encouragement, space to focus or support given. Another 4 contractions pass, and Eve is being asked to stay as still as possible as a cervical exam is needed to assess how dilated she is. No biggie, all part of the process (for some). The nurse states that she is 4 centimeters dilated and "stretchy", that the worst has yet to hit.
See the difference? As a labour doula when I support families in scenarios as such, I call it birth deflation. When a family comes in ready and willing to do the work, but are deflated at the front door. It's bull crap! Language matters a lot to a labouring mama. If she is encouraged and supported, labour is known to go faster. Her mind will stay in a more positive and accepting space. She will remain more welcoming of the process and les interventions are lower. More importantly, the associated and perceived level of pain is lower.
Labour is a vulnerable, yet empowering experience for a mama to navigate. Most of us will bat off negative thoughts a few times throughout the process, but the difference is that you OWN the negative chatter. As a labouring mama, you shouldn’t have to bat off and carry the weight of another person’s subjective thoughts, beliefs and values when it comes to birth. They aren't yours and they don’t help you by any means.
Again, language matters, choose your care team wisely, and if you end up with a grumpy old crab, water off a ducks back mama. Ask for a new nurse! You hold the power to decide who comes in and out of your birthing space. You might as well fill it will supportive people. ESPECIALLY if you are aiming for a natural birth. Not to discount epidurals, they are bad ass too. Just saying. However, this makes a world of difference for a natural birthing mama.
Labour Anatomy 101
Let me start by saying that if you are a woman, your body is designed to grow and birth a baby. Do I believe that is a woman's soul purpose? Hell no! However, my point is that your body is physiologically designed to grow (you have a uterus) and birth (you have a birth canal) a baby.
Let's talk labour anatomy & hormones. Birth isn't rocket science, it's a complex process, but it's quite simple when you break it down. Let's start from the top. So, you have unprotected sex, or the condom breaks, or you go through IVF treatments. Whatever the situation is, a sperm meets an egg and viola, a little bundle of cells start to multiply, attaches onto the uterus (implantation) and starts to grow. It grows and grows and grows until it is full term. Just an FYI, full term is somewhere between 37 and 42 weeks. Yes, you are technically due for 5 weeks, 40 weeks is just an estimated due date. Your uterus does not have a calendar attached.
If you want to check out one of my labour anatomy videos, you can find them on YouTube. It covers a lot of the same content.
This is where it gets a little more complex. No one really knows why or when labour will start. Some researchers believe that the baby releases oxytocin as a signal to initiate the process. Conversely, some believe that the mothers body releases oxytocin first. For those of you who don't know, oxytocin is a hormone that is released from the hypothalamus (a fancy part of your brain) and tells the uterus to contract. It's also the same hormone that floods the body when you fall in love. Funny huh! However, before the uterus starts to contract another hormone is released to soften and move the cervix, namely prostaglandin.
What we know for sure is that prostaglandin and oxytocin are two hormones that initiate labour. Think of those two hormones like a drip, at first, they start slow and steady, building up to a larger drip as labour progresses along. Now, as the uterus contracts a few magical things are happening. One, uterine muscles are pulling the cervix up into the wall of the uterus. Most of this muscle building happens at the top part of the fundus. As the cervix is being pulled up the result is that it starts to dilate. Two, a different muscle group gently pushes the baby down. Simply put, the two muscles groups work together, one pulls the cervix up and builds a big wall of muscles at the top of the uterus, while another helps by gently pushing the baby down.
There are other hormones at play during this process too. If you are relaxed and welcoming of labour, you will be releasing lots of oxytocin and prostaglandin, but your body is super smart and has a built-in antidote to labour pain. The antidote is called endorphins. The combination of the three hormones is a powerful cocktail. They keep you relaxed, feeling content, loving etc. I have been in labours where women literally fall asleep in-between contractions and slowly rouse when the next contraction starts. A euphoric like state. It’s amazing to watch. However, that is not what we commonly see on the media. That’s another blog post though.
Moving forward, the above isn’t true for everyone. Some people are not welcoming of labour, some people are rattled with fear and are not accepting of the process (no judgement, girl!). Not surprisingly, their bodies produce stress hormones, namely cortisol. Now, cortisol is an important hormone, but when in stressful situations it acts like a fight or flight response. Therefore, it can interfere with the production and release of oxytocin and prostaglandin, potentially making labour longer and seem much more painful. The antidote to cortisol production is simple. When women are accepting, supported and encouraged during labour their stress levels remain lower. Easier said than done when we constantly inundate women with fearful images of birth in the media. Again, another blog post, ha ha.
I digress, one way or another, the body will work hard and hopefully the cervix will dilate to 10 centimeters. When it does, your labour may potentially slow, so you are able to rest. What I mean is that it isn’t uncommon for contractions to space themselves out. I have seen women contract every 2-3 minutes during transition (the last 2 centimeters of dilation) and then every 5 minutes once they hit 10 centimeters. I have witnessed people rest for upwards of a 20-minute period just before spontaneous pushing starts. Now, during this rest think about what is happening, you’re not just chilling, no, no. They body is super crafty. During this phase your perineum (the area between your vaginal opening and anus) is being flooded with hormones. These hormones tell it to become malleable and stretchy so by the time you are pushing out your new babe, it can handle it like a boss. That’s right, your vagina is a BOSS.
So, the long of the short of it is. The more knowledge you have, hopefully you become more comfortable with the process of labour.
If you want to check out one of my labour anatomy videos, you can find them on Youtube