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August 2019
In this issue: Is there such thing as a "normal" birth?
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Is there such thing as a “normal” birth?

Newborn in mom's arms after birth

You’ve just found out you’re pregnant. Quick – start growing those baby toes!

What? You don’t know how?

That’s okay, of course, because your body and your baby are prepared to develop mostly on their own, with a little input (like nutrients from food) from you.

Just as baby’s toes, digestive system, and even teeth follow their own built-in growth plan, labour and birth follow its own built-in process too. The good news is that you don’t have to know how to birth a baby to make it happen – BUT there are things you can do to help the process along.

Working with labour, instead of against it

Pregnant Mom, dad, toddler sitting on the grass

One source of anxiety we often hear from pregnant women is “how is that baby going to get out of there?” Don’t fret, moms-to-be – getting babies “out of there” has been happening for as long as they’ve – ahem – been getting in there.
Don't panic drawing of megaphone and speech bubble
In Canada, we sometimes get the sense that women expect birth to be a scary, negative experience. Perhaps this is because we’re exposed to movies and media where scenes of pain and women pushing on their backs with feet in stirrups are the norm.  Unfortunately, this fear works against us in labour—slowing labour down and making it more difficult. Learning to work with your hormones can guide labour in the direction you want—baby out!



“We [humans] are the only species of mammal that can doubt its capacity to give birth.” - American midwife Ina May Gaskin

Watch the TEDx video: How to remove fear from birth culture
 


Embrace your “cuddle hormones”


Hormones are substances you and your baby make without even knowing it.  They are messengers that send signals to trigger changes in your body, such as labour contractions. Hormones that are important during labour and birth are also the hormones of lovemaking.  Knowing that birth and sex are similar in many ways makes it easier to understand the types of things that can help (or block) your labour progress. 

Have you ever had a time when your lovemaking was spoiled (yes, now we are getting personal)? Now consider the cause.  Maybe it was fear of being caught in the act, stress from your day, distraction from the TV, or feeling self-conscious, watched, disrespected, cold or uncomfortable.  The hormones of lovemaking (and birth) work better when you are ‘lost in the moment’- and can be blocked if the thinking or worrying part of your brain takes over.  Just as progress in the bedroom can be blocked, so can progress in the labour room! 

Let’s break it down a little more.      

There are three main hormones involved in birth:

Heart emojiOxytocin – the “love” hormone. Makes you less sensitive to pain. Muscles relax. Helps your uterus to contract and your cervix to open.


EndorphHappy emojiins – the "happy" hormone, relieves pain and stress.





Adrenaline – “fight or flight” hormone that slows labour down. Muscles tighten and energy is sent to your arms and legs (instead of your uterus). This response is to help you run away or stay and fight when in danger-but not so helpful when you want your cervix to dilate. 
 

Midwife helping pregnant woman

Oxytocin and endorphins flow more freely when you feel:

  • Loved
  • Safe
  • Supported and protected
  • Physically connected (skin-to-skin touching, kissing-yes, even during labour)
Adrenaline rushes happen when you feel:
  • Stressed
  • Scared
  • Hungry
  • Cold
  • Watched
  • Judged
  • You have no control over the situation
So, what can you do to “work with your hormones”? Here are some healthy birth practices to get you started:
  • Let labour start on its own, unless there’s a medical reason not to
  • Walk, move around and change positions during labour
  • Bring a friend, loved one or doula (a woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth) for support
  • Avoid interventions that aren’t medically necessary (VIDEO)
  • Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push
  • Keep mom and baby together after birth – it’s best for mom, baby and breastfeeding
(adapted from: Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices)


By working with your body and your natural hormones, you are more likely to have a safe and healthy birth and more likely to:
  • Have immediate, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact
  • Bond well with your baby
  • Breastfeed 
  • Have a baby with healthy gut bacteria
  • Experience mental health benefits
  • Prevent chronic diseases later in life
  • Avoid potential harm from unnecessary interventions
 
Skin to skin contact after birth

Don’t get us wrong-medical interventions can be beneficial and even lifesaving at times! Understanding the risks, benefits, and options available can help you make an informed decision about the care you and your baby receive.

Here are some strategies to support you in making informed decisions for your labour and birth: 
  • Learn more about interventions before you go into labour.
  • Look for sources that are reliable and evidence-based. Public Health has a FREE online prenatal program to get you started. 
  • Attend an in-person prenatal class.
  • Explore your own beliefs and preferences about giving birth. Birth can be unpredictable, but you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to making the decisions.
  • Ask your healthcare provider questions about procedures and interventions during prenatal appointments.
  • Ask your healthcare provider to explain the benefits, risks and other options for procedures they are recommending.   
If you make an informed decision to have an intervention, continue to support your hormones by following the healthy birth practices as much as possible.   
 

Making a birth preference plan

Pregnant woman taking notes
A “birth preference plan” is usually a short, written document that can help you start a discussion with your healthcare providers about your preferences for labour and birth. To be most helpful, take your birth preference plan to a prenatal appointment to start the discussion early during your pregnancy. You also need to be prepared that your body and baby may have different ideas than you do about how your birth will unfold!

A birth preference plan usually includes information about where you want to give birth and how you best feel comfortable and supported. In other words, what kind of environment will help you feel oxytocin-cozy and what could potentially trigger your “fight or flight” response? For example, having relatives in the room during labour may be comforting for some women, or feel threatening to others.

It can also help you plan ahead about things like coping with labour and special instructions (such as if you want your partner to cut the cord), newborn care, and breastfeeding.

Many birth plan templates are available online if you’re interested in making a plan of your own.  One of our favourites is the Lamaze birth plan template that is designed around the six healthy birth practices.

Care providers who attend births are likely to tell you “there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ birth! They’re all different!” We agree! No two births are the same.

When it’s possible, the best long-term outcomes for mom and baby come from births that allow hormones to work as they were intended. Prenatal education can help you learn more about hormones and how to support them, but also to trust your body and feel empowered to make informed decisions.  We hope you’ll sign up for our online prenatal program to continue your learning. Learn more about how Public Health can help support you in your pregnancy.
 
Click on the image to preview our online prenatal program

Your child's developmental milestones:

Want more stage and age-specific information? Visit our website to read about your child’s development and get more activities and healthy living tips:
1st trimester | 2nd trimester | 3rd trimester | Newborn
 

Learn more: 

  • Planning to give birth at the Guelph General Hospital Family Birthing Unit?  Sign up for their tour and information session offered the third Wednesday evening of each month. 
  • Enjoying this monthly e-newsletter? Subscribe to Public Health's Let's Talk Parenting e-Newsletter to get reliable, local parenting information directly to your inbox.
  • Not sure how you will pay for dental care for your children? Public Health has free dental clinics for kids ages 0 to 17.
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Visit Omama.com for a step-by-step guide to pregnancy.

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