When humans first walked the earth, all women gave birth without the aid of pain relief. The introduction of pain relief has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the sense that it is there for a woman who is really struggling, and a curse because it often results in further intervention and complications.
Early bronze age statue of pregnant woman - Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Women these days often doubt that they will manage the pain of birth, but thereís no reason that they canít. We are no different to our prehistoric sisters! We just have more choices to make than they did. So what can we do in order to maximise our chances of a drug free birth?
1. Stay Nourished and Hydrated: When youíre in labour itís unlikely youíll feel like eating a steak and chips, but in the early stages of labour itís a really good idea to eat, and no matter where youíre at in labour itís a good idea to drink. You wouldnít expect your body to function for a whole day of normal activity without fluid or food so itís patently absurd to expect it in labour. Hospitals frequently cite the risk of aspiration in surgery as reason to abstain, however that has been repeatedly debunked as a risk significant enough to deprive labouring women of nourishment. A well nourished body will give birth much more easily, much the same as a car with petrol will get you to the shops, but one without will need to be towed.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
2. Harness your hormones: Labour progresses naturally when hormone release is optimal. The love hormone, oxytocin is in charge of all things birth, itís also the same hormone thatís released when you have sex. The same conditions you need for sex are required for birth. Comfortable, dark, and private. You can not outsmart your prehistoric brain, and synthetic versions of oxytocin can not compete with the real deal anymore than a $10 Gucci handbag off Ebay will match up to an original. Oxytocin calms you, helps you manage the intensity of contractions, and keeps labour working effectively and safely. Being afraid, hungry or thirsty, in an environment that doesnít allow you privacy, under lights, or where there is too much distraction will stop production of oxytocin to allow you to find a more suitable environment.
3. Relaxation and breathing: In order to work efficiently your uterus needs a good supply of oxygen. Practice breathing air right into your body, all the way deep down into your diaphragm. Furthermore if you are relaxed and not tense, your uterus can work more effectively with less pain. Practice breathing and relaxation in pregnancy. Breathing might sound like a silly thing for pain relief but any woman who has been caught caught mid contraction without a good breath of air will tell you the difference is obvious, and itís the same with relaxation. Tension increases pain, relaxation reduces it. Oxygen improves the way your muscles work, and when your muscles work better (your uterus is a mostly made of smooth muscle cells) birth works better!
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
4. Moving Freely: When you are upright in labour, gravity helps move the baby down and out. Being on your back slows labour, increases the likelihood of tearing, and reduces oxygen flow to the baby. However having said that, itís important to note here that the key is MOVING FREELY, moving into positions that your body wants. A small number of women will adopt a supine position for birth and shouldnít be discouraged from that, but most prefer being upright.
BONUS POINTS: Following the top four tips is essential, but you can pick or choose from these.
Waterbirth - eases pain, permits greater mobility which also eases pain, and reduces the length of labour.
Hire a doula - doulas are well known for reducing caesarean rates, a great reduction in requests for epidurals, and faster labours.
Humans are designed to give birth, our whole bodies work brilliantly in the majority of cases when given the right opportunity. There are things that we can do to help, and there are things we just have to leave to nature. We should aim to give ourselves and our babies the best birth possible, only utilising interventions when absolutely necessary and unavoidable.
Great article. Women need to know that it's ok to go with what their bodies are telling them as opposed to what they may be told by outside sources - especially if these two conflict. They also need to know that in the vast majority of cases, given the right circumstances, giving birth naturally is achievable.