Women are incredibly complex beings. Unlike men, with one primary hormone, testosterone, which you may have noticed is either up or down, women undulate through rhythms and cycles. We live in a delicate balance of oestrogen, progesterone and the best hormone of them all – oxytocin.
What is surprising to most people is that the main hormone of their labour is oxytocin – the love hormone. Oxytocin is released by the pituitary gland and creates the rhythmic contractions of the uterus muscle. Just like the age-old saying, (which I never quite understood until I read Dr Sarah Buckley’s article on the hormonal physiology of labour)“The energy that got the baby in, is the energy that gets the baby out!”
Oxytocin is an extremely powerful and yet subtle hormone with a very short half-life. Released into the bloodstream when we are massaged, when making love, spending time with people we trust, during skin-to-skin contact, it even increases whenever a group of women sit down in a room together. (Thus, the power of the red tent and female birth attendants.)
If we know that stress causes and contributes to 90% of all disease why would that not be also the case during pregnancy and labour. Our stresses, our fears, our karma or conditioning, whatever you term it causes us to experience a different physiology in the body, the fight-or-flight response, releasing catecholamines or stress hormones. Unfamiliar people in birthing rooms, bright lights and certain words or phrases will alter the chemistry of any woman’s body during labour. Stress can sneak in very quickly and disrupt mum and baby’s physiology and wellbeing during labour often leading to complications.
Catecholamines and oxytocin are also antagonistic. Stress creates a constriction of blood vessels, thus reducing the amount of oxygen for you and your baby. It creates irregular contractions, prevents labour from progressing or starting and can stop the cervix from opening.
I did not have the easiest of labours the first time round and I searched for many years to understand why. After wasting many hours on feelings of disappointment for not having the birth I wanted I also spent many hours studying. This was the stimulus for me becoming a doula, a childbirth educator, a specialist in pre natal yoga and the creator of the amazing She Births course.
During She Births I try to give the most comprehensive, balanced and empowering education to couples. Allowing them the opportunity to not just understand the chemistry of their bodies intellectually but also the skills of how they can evoke a relaxation response (opposite of the fight-or-flight response) and create a blissful chemistry under any circumstance in their labour and throughout the rest of their lives. Inspiring them also to consider that it is not possible to just apply a technique to labour when the rest of daily life is full of stress and exhaustion. Every couple needs to reflect on how they live their daily lives and look into the possibility of changing some habits too.
To me this is the essence of what we call in yoga; sadhana – a spiritual practice or meditation in motion. In my experience giving birth, however natural or assisted it is, and raising our children is the most sacred and enlightening path for women and one to be celebrated, learnt from and enjoyed.