It’s not your Ma’s Lamaze! For years (mostly around the time when many of our mothers were giving birth), Lamaze childbirth education became widely known as a ‘method’ for birth, teaching a breathing and coping style that came to be known by its name. Lamaze today is a ‘philosophy’ of birth, founded on 6 Healthy Birth Practices that are designed to encourage women to trust their bodies, reduce fear, and have a healthy and safe birth for mother and baby.
We’re excited to walk through these 6 Healthy Birth Practices with you over the next several weeks, in order to bring greater understanding to not only the benefits of Lamaze, but to the amazing way that women’s bodies are designed to work!
Healthy Birth Practice #1: Let Labor Begin on Its Own
Want to increase your chances of a smooth labor and birth, as well as a good beginning to life with baby after birth? Lamaze’s Healthy Birth Practice #1 encourages women to let labor begin in its own time, knowing that mom and baby have built in hormones designed to signal each other when they are ready for birth.
As a woman nears the end of her pregnancy, her hormones are likely to be the ‘fall guy’ (or ‘fall girl’ in this case) for every teary moment or emotional outburst. It is often a roller coaster, as she walks through those last days and weeks feeling uncomfortable, facing some unknowns, and sometimes doubting her own ability to do the big job of labor and parenting that lay ahead.
All in all, it’s the hormones that get a bad rap. How often do we hear, “Thank goodness for those hormones! Don’t know what I’d do without them!” In reality, you are much more likely to hear, “Oh, it’s just your hormones, sweety, it’ll get better…” Or, “Those hormones are acting up again – stay out of her way!”
Let us tell you, we LOVE those hormones! While hormone levels rise and fall with frequency, and yes, they do sometimes result in extra tears and waves of emotion, they have a singular, focused purpose. And it’s all about the health and well being of mom and baby.
Here are the top five reasons we should celebrate the hormones at work in a woman’s body at the end of pregnancy and throughout labor (Hormones and Healthy Birth, Giving Birth with Confidence, http://www.givingbirthwithconfidence.org):
- Baby speaks up. At the beginning of this beautiful dance of labor hormones, it is believed that the baby initiates by releasing cortisol (steroid hormone) simultaneously to mom experiencing an increase in the production of estrogen (female sex hormone) (Sarah Buckley, Executive Summary of Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing, The Journal of Perinatal Education). This signals the start of early labor!
- Prep work. As the levels of estrogen, oxytocin, and prostaglandins rise, they are preparing a woman’s body for labor by helping the uterus to practice and be more efficient, loosening the joints to make way for baby, and softening, effacing, and opening the cervix for labor.
- Labor land. Beta-endorphin receptors are increased before labor, which means that the more oxytocin works throughout labor to bring on contractions, the more endorphins a woman’s body receives to counteract and diminish pain in labor. These endorphins not only act as an analgesic, reducing stress in labor, but also help to create a sometimes euphoric state of mind for the mother, often known as ‘labor land.’
- Healthy stress. Catecholamines (often referred to as stress hormones) actually have an important role at the right time in labor. A healthy dose of these hormones not only help the mother to push a baby out, known as the ‘fetal ejection reflex,’ but they also play a role in ensuring that baby has enough oxygen during labor and enough blood supply to baby’s heart and brain.
- After birth. Hormones pave the way not only for the delivery of the placenta (often known as the afterbirth), but for mother and baby post birth. Oxytocin in particular, paves the way for strong contractions to continue after the baby’s birth by encouraging the uterus to work back down to size and reduce risk of hemorrhage, as well as setting the stage for bonding and breastfeeding. And those catecholamines? Still helping out by giving baby energy, helping with breathing, and regulating baby’s body temperature (Hormones and Healthy Birth, Giving Birth with Confidence).
Because we have learned that, ‘Maternal and fetal readiness for labor is precisely aligned at the physiologic onset of term labor to optimize labor efficiency and maternal and newborn transitions,” (Sarah Buckley, Executive Summary of Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing, The Journal of Perinatal Education) we then know that interrupting this cascade of hormones with labor induction or a scheduled cesarean has a dramatic impact on both the mother and the baby. In these cases, we can pause, delay, or even create an absence of these valuable hormones in the dance of birth and early postpartum.
Knowing this, we also have to be aware that there are medical considerations and times when induction may be safer than waiting for labor. It’s important to talk about this with your provider should any medical needs arise.
Important questions to ask your provider, should you be advised to induce labor or schedule a cesarean:
- Why are you recommending an induction or cesarean?
- What type of induction is recommended?
- How does it impact mom?
- How does it impact baby?
- How long can we wait and what are the risks if we choose to wait for labor to begin naturally?
- Can we try more natural methods of induction first?
- Is induction likely to be successful for me (what is my Bishop’s Score?)?
- Do research studies confirm that induction or cesarean are the best course of action?
As long as we have a healthy mom and healthy baby, we want to encourage all moms and babies towards a natural start to labor, because the benefits are so clear. Even when it’s a challenge to wait, when the hormones are flying high, and when this beautiful but vulnerable ‘in between’ time of waiting seems to stretch on to infinity, know that mom and baby are perfectly designed to work together.
For more information on reasons for induction, the impact of induction before labor begins, and on evidenced based research related to reasons for induction, please check out the following:
This information in this blog is not to be construed as medical advice, but will hopefully encourage healthy conversations with your health care provider.