Birthowl’s natural childbirth

November 10, 2008, 2:37 am
Filed under: birth | Tags: , , , ,

Michel Odent on Mother & Baby separation:

Oxytocin is more than just the hormone responsible for uterine contractions. When it is injected into the brain of a mammal, even a male or virgin rat, it induces maternal behavior, i.e., the need to take care of pups. One of the greatest peaks of oxytocin a woman can have in her life is just after childbirth, if the birth has occurred without any intervention. It is also necessary for the “milk ejection reflex.” In fact, oxytocin is involved in any episode of sexual life, and both partners release oxytocin during intercourse. It is even involved in any aspect of love and friendship: when we share a meal with companions, we increase our levels of oxytocin.Morphine-like hormones, commonly called endorphins, also play important roles in the birth process. Up to the birth of the baby, both mother and fetus release their own endorphins, so that during the hour following birth they are still impregnated with opiates. It is well known that opiates induce a state of dependency. When mother and baby haven’t yet eliminated their endorphins and are close to each other, the beginning of a deep bond is created. In fact, when sexual partners are close to each other and impregnated with opiates, another kind of bonding may result that follows exactly the same model as the bonding between mother and baby.


It is not only the mother who is releasing hormones during labor and delivery. During the last contractions, the fetus is also releasing a high level of hormones of the adrenaline family. One of the effects of this is that the baby is alert at birth, with eyes wide open and pupils dilated. Mothers are fascinated by the gaze of their newborn babies. It seems that this eye-to-eye contact is an important feature of the beginning of the mother-baby relationship, which probably helps the release of the love hormone, oxytocin. Both mother and baby are in a complex hormonal balance that will not last long and will never happen again. Physiologists today can interpret what ethologists have known for half a century by studying the behavior of animals: where the development of the capacity to love is concerned, there is a critical, sensitive period just after the birth.


Why is labour important?

Ina may Gaskin on “why is labour important?”

Labor is important, because during labor, both the mother’s and the baby’s body is prepared for birth. The levels of certain hormones rise and ebb during labor. For instance, the mother’s oxytocin levels rise markedly just before the baby is pushed out of her body. This protects her against postpartum hemorrhage. High oxytocin levels in the mother (which are accompanied by higher levels in the baby, too) prepare the nervous systems of both to be attuned to each other. This creates a special “sensitive” period during which these special hormones remain at high levels in undisturbed birth, and this period is best spent by mother and baby in skin-to-skin contact with each other as the baby begins to nuzzle and nick the mother’s breast or the two just look into each other’s eyes and adore each other. The euphoria that follows an unmedicated labor is a very special time for anyone who is privileged to witness it. It’s even better for those who get to experience it.


When the mother experiences labor, she also has higher levels than usual of beta endorphin. This hormone then triggers another hormone, prolactin, which prompts her body to get ready for milk production at the same time that it prepares the baby’s lungs for more efficient breathing.

Labor also gives the baby’s torso a good squeeze, which helps to dry out the lungs and make them ready for breathing air in the outside world. Cesarean-born babies typically have wetter lungs, which can mean a higher rate of needing breathing assistance at birth.

Photo by Ian

Homebirth- how to convince friends and relatives

Question: My sister and I were discussing childbirth. She is very influenced by her friend, a nurse, to have an intrusive, medicalized birth. What kind of resources can I share with her to show her that a natural childbirth is a wonderful and safe birth choice?


Dr. Michel Odent: You might first explain to your sister and her friend that a natural childbirth is not a choice. This term can only be used in retrospect, when a woman has given birth without any drug and without any intervention. The environment where you give birth is the real choice. You must explain that your main objective is safety and that according to common sense an easy birth is safer than a difficult birth. So your priority is to make the birth as easy as possible thanks to an environment that can satisfy your basic needs when you are in labor.

Your basic needs are easy to explain in the current scientific context. Physiologists, scientists who study the body functions, tell us that adrenaline (the emergency hormone we release in particular when we are scared or when we are cold) makes difficult the release of oxytocin, the hormone necessary for effective uterine contractions. You can explain that you release a lot of adrenaline when you are in an unfamiliar and clinical environment. You can add that, in contrast, you can imagine yourself giving birth in a familiar environment, with – for example – nobody else around than an experienced, motherly, low profile and silent midwife knitting in a corner. It is probable that in such an environment your body will work well.

The second aspect of the safety preoccupation is: what to do if there is something wrong? In the age of the safe c-section and widespread cell-phones, there is usually an easy answer to this question, which should always be the second one.

Many health professionals need to learn to think in terms of ‘ratio of benefits to risks’. Where out of hospital births are concerned, they immediately ask: ‘what will you do if…’ instead of asking first: ‘how to make the birth as easy as possible’.

You are asking what kind of resources you can share. You might share data about the Dutch birth statistics. In Holland, where 82% of the midwives are independent primary care givers, about 31% of the births occur at home, and an autonomous midwife attends many of the hospital births. The rates of c-sections are around 10% for the whole country and more than 90% of the laboring women do not need an epidural anesthesia. The birth outcomes are much better than in the USA (number of babies alive and healthy at birth).

Do not recommend books about ‘natural childbirth’ because they are usually written for the converted. Instead you might suggest updated books focusing on one of the main aspects of industrialized childbirth, such as ‘The Caesarean. Free Association Books 2004’. In order to help your sister and friend to learn to think long term, you might indicate the ‘Primal Health Research Data Base‘ that is specialized in studies exploring the long term consequences of what happened at the beginning of our life. It appears that the way we are born has life long consequences and that, today, in spite of the safe caesarean, we have good reasons to try to rediscover the basic needs of women in labor and of newborn babies.

Michel Odent, M.D.

For several decades Michel Odent has been instrumental in influencing the history of childbirth and health research. As a practitioner he developed the maternity unit at Pithiviers Hospital in France in the 1960s and ’70s. He is familiarly known as the obstetrician who introduced the concept of birthing pools and home-like birthing rooms. His approach has been featured in eminent medical journals such as Lancet, and in TV documentaries such as the BBC film Birth Reborn. With six midwives he was in charge of about one thousand births a year and could achieve ideal statistics with low rates of intervention. After his hospital career he practiced home birth.

As a researcher he founded the Primal Health Research Center in London (UK), which focuses upon the long term consequences of early experiences. An overview of the Primal Health Research Data Bank clearly indicates that health is shaped during the primal period (from conception until the first birthday). It also suggests that the way we are born has long term consequences in terms of sociability, aggressiveness or, otherwise speaking, capacity to love.

Photo by Pierre-Olivier Mazoyer