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Preparation For Birth

Grantly Dick-Read, M.D., wrote about the fear of birth and how this rising anxiety toward the end of a pregnancy may inhibit a woman’s ability to go into labor and give birth spontaneously. He called it the “fear-pain-tension” cycle. His premise was that fear leads to pain and tension in the body, which can inhibit the progress of labor and giving birth.

Hypnobirthing is one answer to the fear-pain-tension cycle, and has helped many women approach and go through labor and birth with more confidence. I once listened to an audiotape of Dick-Read accompanying a woman during her labor and birth. It was incredible: His voice, although so very British, was so calm and reassuring (and even calming for me, an outsider). It didn’t seem to matter that the mother was on her back in a hospital bed, with bright lights glaring. The mother did not sound like she was in pain. She sounded calm and cooperative. It left an impression on me. (Afterward, Dick-Read asked the mother if she felt any pain; she replied, “No, Doctor, was I supposed to?” Which illustrates the power of trust and a calm presence.)

Various other forms of birth preparation have been popular at one time or another, such as the Lamaze Technique, the Bradley Method (husband-coached childbirth), the Alexander Technique, and International Childbirth Association education classes, among others. In recent decades, classes in Orgasmic Birth, Active Birth, Spiritual Birth, Waterbirth, and Marie Mongan’s Hypnobirthing have joined the ranks as useful ways to prepare for labor and birth.

Toward the end of a pregnancy, many women feel as if they should be doing something to trigger or stimulate their bodies to begin the labor process. After all, you think, “Now I am prepared: I know about contractions and the ‘show’ and the position of the baby. Something should be happening, right?” When there are no signs of tightenings or labor-like pain in the abdomen, women often feel as if their bodies are failing, or not doing something right. The instant communication offered by social media puts the privacy that childbirth requires at risk.

Relatives, friends, work colleagues, midwives, and doctors all want to know: Has the baby “dropped” yet? Are you in labor yet? Has anything happened yet? Are you feeling anything? When are you going to have this baby? The due date hangs like a huge cloud, and everyone suspects your body is not “playing the game.” You are being watched. Your cargo is public and precious. There must be something wrong with you. Perhaps you are anxious, nervous, or afraid that you won’t pass this very important test, conveying a sort of “right” to motherhood. The socialization of childbirth weighs heavily.

There is no doubt that Dick-Read was right, and that anxiety and fear lead to tension. When the early labor begins, it may feel more painful and frightening than anticipated. The release of the cocktail of hormones needed to initiate labor may be suppressed by the release of stress and anxiety hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol. We can demonstrate this in a farmhouse experiment: If you put a cat on the back of a dairy cow, the cow will stop ejecting and producing milk. The early labor process will stop when a predatory animal is near.

Michel Odent, M.D., suggests in his latest book, The Future of Homo, that there is another reason why the preparation period before labor may be influenced by the social environment. He asks who will understand that “…before giving birth women need to live in peace and be protected against unnecessary intellectual stimulations?”

Women have access to books, online courses, online media stimulation, and computer screens—all of which keep us stimulated intellectually and “in our heads.” Books and writing about pregnancy and birth have only been available to women in the last 100 years. Before that, the only records available about birth were those a midwife or diligent doctor may have kept. In other words, up until 100 years ago, women have always given birth physiologically. The question is, what will happen to humanity when physiological birth no longer occurs?

The father of a baby may exert a strong influence on a pregnant woman. He may bring his fears to bear on her. Such was the case where the father and obstetrician together advised a woman to have a caesarian section to avoid “tearing.” This actually has happened, and it is an extreme example of how thinking too much can alter the way a woman gives birth. Biologically, this idea that natural birth harms a woman makes no sense. The pelvic floor muscles are designed to stretch and retract like elastic when the birth is physiological and undisturbed. When a physiological birth is happening, the body secretes hormones and juices that protect a woman’s body from harm…and heal her body, should minor tearing occur.

In the last few weeks of a pregnancy, hormones such as relaxin and prolactin increase, softening ligaments and muscles around the body and pelvis to prepare for the birth. These hormones may also render women with what is sometimes called a “preggy brain.” Forgetfulness seems to take over and thinking skills seem foggy. They are meant to. A woman needs to go into her body and feel safe in order to nest and prepare her space for a new baby. Her world needs to transform from the world out there to the world in here.

Intellectual function is also stimulated by electrical lighting, as well as daylight. Melatonin is the hormone produced after night falls; it works in harmony with oxytocin, the hormone that increases tightenings of the uterus during labor and birth. So, while melatonin is needed to prepare for labor to begin, its release is suppressed by bright lights, both in the home and the hospital.

In preparing for birth during the last few weeks of pregnancy, these are things to consider:

  • Surround yourself with people who respect your viewpoint

  • Find a team who is calm and understands physiological birth

  • Switch off the lights (light suppresses the release of melatonin)

  • Engage in nesting activities

  • Start knitting, doing crochet, drawing, painting

  • Avoid discussion with well-meaning friends and relatives about your pregnancy or birth

  • Keep your due date private

  • Limit exposure to online media, computer screens, phone screens

  • Limit late-night activities that use LED lighting

  • Use candles at night and rest early

  • Listen to music, dance, sing, or participate in other right-brain, feeling activities

  • Take long walks, go swimming, work in the garden

  • Find a Webster-certified chiropractor for physiological support

  • Find a calm, trusted companion, like a birth doula or midwife

The most important point Odent raises about this period of preparation is that it may well be a critical period for the baby’s brain development. As long as the placenta continues to function well after a due date, there is no need to rush to induce the labor process. An unborn baby is at this time particularly sensitive to movement. Could this be a sensitive time in the development of the foundation for spatial skills?

It may, after all, be critical for the baby to be in the womb and preparing for birth at this perinatal time. Preparation for birth is not only about antenatal education or care. It is also about connecting with the rhythms and seasons of nature. It is about protecting the physiology of pregnancy and birth for mother and baby.