I believe that giving birth is similar to making love.
Normal, low-risk childbirth is very difficult to achieve in the hospital setting. Even when you have the most amazing provider, the very atmosphere prevents it. I believe the reason for this is related to the fact that childbirth is similar to making love. It’s not really such a wild idea if you think about it like this… For most people with a natural pregnancy, lovemaking is the act that starts the whole process. Pregnancy ensues and the body nurtures and grows the seed into a baby and through the maturation process until the appropriate time to release it into the world.
There is believed to be a multifactorial triggering process that is not well understood. However, it is common knowledge that once it gets going, labor responds well to dim lighting, quiet surroundings, and the soothing, loving support especially from the birthing person’s partner. Sound familiar?
What doesn’t work
When frightened, our mammal cousins have been known to stop their labors in order to move to safety. The same is true for humans, which is why there is an epidemic of Pitocin in use in most hospital Labor and Delivery units around the world. Normal labor does not respond well to bright lights, loud noises, and strangers. This has been discussed at length by obstetric greats such as Grantly Dick-Read and Michel Odent – both ardent proponents of unmolested birthing. Imagine trying to make love and achieve orgasm with all of that activity going on around you!
Another parallel between love-making and childbirthing has to do with the birthing person’s partner. Of course, the partner is included and involved with all aspects of the process as they were an integral part of making it happen. (What other hospital-based care takes place with the ‘patient’ AND their partner? No surgical procedures or any other procedures are a family event unless it’s a small child who needs a parent present for comfort.) In the majority of cases, the partner was present and responsible for planting the seed, and therefore is integral to the birthing process.
They have a bond in their union making the partner the one unique person in the room who is intimate with the birthing person. When the partner lovingly strokes and massages, whispers loving words of encouragement and is just completely present to the process, it causes the birthing person to release oxytocin which in turn causes the labor to intensify. Also, just like in love-making, the need for single-minded concentration is paramount to achieve the level of trust, openness, and surrender that is necessary for birth to happen.
Uncomfortable & Fearful
The combination of poorly designed rooms and standard interventions that are not evidence-based has created the need for using a dangerous drug on nearly all normal labors! When birthing people are not comfortable or if they are fearful, they will not be able to achieve the level of relaxation and focus required for efficient birthing.
Pitocin is the synthetic version of oxytocin – also known as the ‘love’ hormone. It is produced by our bodies when we hug another person (or animal) or make love, and it is this hormone that causes the uterus to contract and expel the baby.
We have discovered that we can give the synthetic version to pregnant individuals to start labor or make contractions stronger and closer together. But it is not without risks. It is a dangerous drug that can cause contractions that are too close together and too strong creating distress for the baby.
Pitocin is the reason for many emergency cesareans in labor. Having Pitocin creates the need for other non-evidence based interventions such as continuous monitoring and IV which in turn lead to another non-evidence based intervention – immobility, being stuck in the bed, usually on the back – all of these being extremely unhelpful to the laboring person. Another downside to Pitocin is the accompanying liters of IV fluids that the laboring person tends to receive.
It is not uncommon for someone to get 4, 5, even 6 liters of fluid during an induction, especially if they elect to get an epidural. All of this fluid can cause swelling and difficult breastfeeding due to the extreme engorgement that occurs. So instead of giving a dangerous drug to augment labor when people come into the hospital, why not redesign the physical space to encourage natural labor to do the job?
Let’s change things
We have birthed successfully without Pitocin for millennia before birth entered the hospital in the early decades of the 1900s. Let’s alter the external physical space and encourage practices that support the human body and psyche to birth naturally. The only people who require drugs to enable lovemaking are those with hormonal imbalances, it should be the same for normal, low-risk childbirth.
I propose that labor and delivery units set aside a block of rooms with dimmers on all the light switches, electronic candles sprinkled throughout the room, handheld dopplers for intermittent monitoring, multiple options for hydrotherapy including showers big enough for 2 people and a birth ball or shower chair and labor/birth tubs. They should have a welcoming attitude for partners and doulas; no standard IV or continuous monitoring; and healthy snacks. I believe that providers would find less of a need to augment labors and we could reduce our overall cesarean rates while improving client satisfaction.