Is it True That Some Women Claim to Have s ‘Pain Free’ Birth? Is it Really Possible? by Tamika Hilder, www.empoweredbirth.com.au
When you get told something enough times, you believe it, right? So childbirth is painful, isn’t it? Its hard work and terrifying! Well that’s what the movies we watch portray, and what we usually hear from our well-intentioned friends and family, and perhaps even what we recall from our own experiences. This is how we learn in life. We hear something a number of times, it becomes a belief, and then we expect what we believe, and create it. Let me explain.
Firstly, my intention and dream for Australian women is that they know the ‘truth’ about birth – that a healthy woman carrying a healthy baby in a normal position can birth gently, calmly, joyfully, and even ecstatically (it’s orgasmic!!!) So if that is the case, why is there so much fear around birth?
For many women and their babies in Australia, birth is painful and even traumatic. However, although this may be the case for many women, it does not have to set the standard for all women. What I am about to share with you could be perhaps the best kept secret of our time. The information presented in this article is based on the relatively new science called Epigenetics, the mind-body connection, and simple age-old wisdom. After reading this article, it will not only make complete sense to you, but will forever change the way you think about birth, your body, and hopefully your baby’s first impression of the world.
THE ROLE OF OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM IN BIRTH
Our central nervous system is like a telephone system. One of its main functions is to interpret messages being sent from our brain or mind, and then determine what occurs in the body when it receives these messages. A message can be a conscious or unconscious thought/belief, a picture in our mind, or something we see. The impulses that are transmitted from the nervous system can be voluntary or involuntary. In this article, we will be focussing on the involuntary responses which consist of two systems: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic.
The sympathetic nervous system
The role of the sympathetic nervous system is to put the body on alert. This is the body’s defence mechanism and enables the body to prepare for emergencies or life-threatening situations by putting the body into the ‘fight or flight’ mode. Thus our blood pressure and heart rate increase, pupils dilate, and our digestion is suspended. Our organs, including our uterus, are shut down while the blood is taken from our organs to the muscles which will allow us to flee from danger – our arm and leg muscles. In this state, stressor hormones called catecholamines are secreted which increase the sensation of pain.
If we do not feel safe during our pregnancy or labour, we will automatically go into ‘fight or flight’ mode.
The parasympathetic nervous system
The role of the parasympathetic nervous system is to keep the body and mind in harmony and in balance. It ensures the body functions in a state of calm by slowing the heart rate, reducing stimulation, slowing the firing of harmful neuropeptides, and creating endorphins which are natural pain-numbing hormones. (Mongan, 2005). When we feel safe, this is what we experience.
HORMONES DURING LABOUR AND BIRTH
Endorphins – Parasympathetic nervous system
Endorphins are known to be similar to morphine. They numb pain. Some endorphins produced during labour such as beta-endorphins are up to 200 times stronger than morphine (Buckley, 2005). Endorphins as Buckley explains are the feel-good hormones. They put us into a state which is similar to how a runner feels after finishing a race. A birth experienced free from the fear of pain allows the organs to work as they should, so the birth can unfold easily and comfortably.
Oxytocin – Parasympathetic nervous system
Oxytocin is known as the hormone of love because it is associated with love-making, orgasm, and breastfeeding, and is the hormone that initiates our contractions. It helps us to feel nurturing, bonding and loving feelings towards our baby. Oxytocin aids the natural expulsive reflex to birth the baby at the end of labour and helps the baby to be born with only a few contractions. Oxytocin is produced in the highest amounts at the time of crowning, and decreases within a few hours after birth.
When a woman in labour feels safe, and has a positive attitude to her birth, she releases endorphins and oxytocin in high amounts, and consequently will feel in control, comfortable, and relaxed. Any synthetic drugs introduced into her body during labour, decreases the level of natural hormones
Catecholamines – Sympathetic nervous system
Catecholamines are stress hormones and include adrenalin and nor-adrenalin. These hormones increase the sensations experienced during the birthing process. Adrenalin increases at the time of birthing and assists (along with oxytocin), in the natural expulsive reflex. When a labouring woman is relaxed, catecholamines are produced in very small amounts. Conversely, if she is feels unsafe, these hormones will increase.
Fear – Tension – Pain
When any mammal in nature gives birth, she must feel unobserved, safe, and be in a familiar, private environment. (Mongan, 2005; Buckley, 2005) If she senses impending danger, her sympathetic nervous system will automatically take over, catecholamines will be released in higher amounts, and her endorphin levels will consequently decrease as she enters the ‘fight or flight’ state. She will stall or stop her labour, if she senses the need to flee to safety.
As human beings, we are actually not that different! If we feel observed, fearful, or unsafe, our sympathetic nervous system will automatically switch on and we will enter ‘fight or flight’ mode. Our body will send the necessary blood from our contracting uterus, to the muscles of the arms and legs. The contracting uterine muscles, which were working harmoniously together to thin and open the cervix, become filled with tension. They are trying to contract, but do not have the blood needed to fulfil such a movement. The baby’s head is then forced against a taut cervix and pain is created. (Mongan, 2005) Blood (hence oxygen), is deprived not only from the much needed uterine muscles required during labour, but also to the baby, increasing the chances of foetal distress, which may then require intervention. Due to the high levels of catecholamines and decreased endorphin levels, the woman will begin to feel an increased amount of sensation or pain. (Reynolds, 1990).
In the HypnoBirthing® Mongan Method childbirth mind-body education program, this process is called the Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome. Interestingly, if this situation arises in a hospital, it will be called Failure-To-Progress and the cascade of intervention will most likely begin. If a labouring woman has gone into this mode, she needs first and foremost, to have the time to recreate a comfortable space for herself. This will then enable her parasympathetic nervous system to switch on and allow her to regain feelings of relaxation and calmness. Her body will restart labour naturally when she feels safe and unobserved – as with other birthing mammals.
HOW THE MIND AFFECTS THE BODY
Science, in particular Epigenetics, has now confirmed that our mind (what we visualise, believe, think and feel) has an effect on our body. With every thought or emotion we experience, there is an instant corresponding chemical and physiological response (Mongan, 2005). Our mind controls our nervous system and is made up of a conscious mind (5%) and an unconscious mind ( 95%). Our conscious mind is your thinking mind and our unconscious mind, according to Tad James author of ‘Hypnosis, A Comprehensive Guide’, “not only holds information that is outside our consciousness, but also manages sensations and body functions.” It stores beliefs, emotions and memories, he says.
If you have unconscious negative beliefs/associations, or past trauma and unresolved negative emotions related to your own birth, a past birthing experience, or your approach to birth, you should endeavour to address and release them before your labour. I would suggest consulting with a professional hypnotherapist, NLP Practitioner, or Kinesiologist who has experience with releasing blocks in the subconscious mind. (The HypnoBirthing® Mongan Method deals directly with addressing, and releasing both conscious and subconscious fears, preparing you and your birth companion for a natural, more comfortable, gentle birth). www.hypnobirthing.com
Issues of the mind which may trigger the fear-tension-pain syndrome
There are many different conscious or unconscious issues which stem from fear, and can trigger off our sympathetic nervous system during birth. Some are included below:
– Fears eg. pain, parenting, financial etc.
– Not wanting the child or not feeling ready
– Feeling unsupported during pregnancy or labour
– Not feeling comfortable with choice of birthing place or care provider eg. bright lights, unnecessary onlookers
– Unresolved past birth trauma
– Unresolved personal birth issues
– Unresolved issues between parents or in-laws
– Lack of self-worth
– Control issues or fear of letting go
Tips for gentle childbirth and optimising the ‘good’ hormones
1. Release your fears and all concerns during your pregnancy. Talk to a friend or family member, see a professional, or enrol in a birthing program which focuses specifically on this. It will be priceless!
2. Practice daily relaxation. When you have trained your body how to relax easily and quickly, you can do this in your labour.
3. Learn self-hypnosis to manage and even numb sensations.
4. Trust your body, your baby and nature’s process of birth. Your baby is just as much a participant in the process of labour as you are, so trust them and work with them. Some are quick movers, and others need time, nurturing and a little patience. Remember that birth is normal and natural! Your body is designed to do this. Women in comas’ have given birth before! Your body just does it. You don’t have to ‘do’ anything to give birth. Dr Michel Odent, well-known natural birth advocate says that one cannot help a physiological process, the point is not to hinder it!
5. Visualise your labour and birth going smoothly. This will reinforce to your subconscious mind, that birth is safe, normal and easy.
6. Choose a supportive birthing companion and care providers who support your wishes for a natural birth.
7. Change the word ‘pain’ to ‘sensation.’ When you do feel a sensation during labour, accept it, surrender into it, and work with your body. One must let go during labour and birth and soften into the process.
9. Assertively communicate your wishes to hospital staff
10. Ignore negative birth stories or material. Focus on what you want by thinking and speaking positively about your birth.
11. Create a private, peaceful, quiet environment with dim lighting. No talking unless necessary and music that you can relax to.
1. Buckley, S. (2005). Gentle birth, gentle mothering: The wisdom and science of gentle practices of gentle choices in pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Australia: One Moon Press.
2. James, T; Flores, L; & Schober, J. (2000) Hypnosis: A comprehensive guide. United Kingdom: Crown House Publishing Limited.
3. Mongan, M. (1982/2005). HypnoBirthing: The mongan method. United States: Health Communications, Inc.
4. Reynolds, G, J. (1990) Pain and sensory perversions. Clinical methods. The history, physical and laboratory examinations. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=cm&part=A1581.
Tamika Hilder is the Director of Empowered Birth Australia, a Master NLP Practitioner, HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator, Hypnotherapist, and a Doctoral student of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology. She assists couples in natural fertility, early parenting methods, teaches Hypnobirthing®, and assists women in healing their birth trauma. She works holistically by combining spirituality with the physical, mental and emotional bodies. She is an educator, speaker, writer, vice president for the Prenatal Education Association of Australia and conducts her birth psychology sessions both face to face and nationally/internationally over Skype. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org