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Secret Sensation Time: How To Have A Great Birth, Especially VBAC

By Gloria Lemay

I wanted to write to those of you who are pregnant to tell you something that has been running through my mind all day about how you can be successful with your VBAC births. Many births begin in the night: The woman will get up to pee, feel her membranes release, and then an hour later will begin having sensations 15 minutes apart. Because we think of birth as a family/couple experience, most women will wake up their husbands to tell them something’s starting. Then, probably because we all hope we’ll be the one woman in ten thousand who doesn’t experience any pain, we start organizing the birth supplies, filling up the birthing tub, etc.

I have seen so many births that take days and days of prodromal (under 3 cms. dilation) sensations, and they usually begin this way. The couple distracts themselves in that early, critical time when the pituitary gland is beginning to put out oxytocin to dilate the cervix. Turning on the light causes inhibition of the oxytocin release. Many couples don’t call their midwives until they have sensations coming five minutes apart at 7 a.m., but they’ve been up since midnight timing every one of the early sensations. If they had called their midwife at midnight, she would have said, “Turn off the light and let your husband sleep as much as possible through the night. You, stay dark and quiet. Take a bath with a candle if it helps, and call me back when you think I should come over.”

That first night can make all the difference, but so many couples act like it’s a party and don’t realize they are sabotaging their births right at the beginning. Staying up all night in the early part does two things: It confuses the brain by throwing off the body clock, and it inhibits the release of the very hormone you need to dilate effectively. It can take days to recover after a night of partying, or after working a graveyard shift. Don’t start your birth with that kind of stress on your hormone system.

When you begin to have sensations, I urge you to ignore it as long as you possibly can. Don’t tell anyone. Have a “secret sensation time” with your unborn baby and get in as dark a space as you can. Minimize what is happening with your husband, family, and the birth attendants. What would you rather have— a big, dramatic birth story to tell everyone, or a really smooth birth? You do have a say over your hormone activity. Help your pituitary gland secrete oxytocin to open your cervix by being in a dark, quiet room with your eyes closed.