If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.
“There are no medals for childbirth”. The conversation then often goes, “I’ll probably just have the epidural because I have a terrible pain threshold and what’s the difference, we all get our babies in the end, right?”.
I’m tired of this argument. As a woman who wants the best for women and babies (and families) this statement, and this line of reasoning really irks me.
Nope. You’re right! There are indeed no medals for childbirth (why aren’t there though – we should totally get medals for that!?), but – and this is a REALLY BIG BUT – there are more favourable outcomes for mothers and babies.
You’re probably all aware of the work of Dr Sarah J. Buckley and if you’re not, well, you’re about to be introduced! She has some amazing and sensible things to say about physiological childbirth; that is, birth as it’s designed to be – uninterrupted, hormonal. Her most recent contribution to the world of birth is her report, ‘Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing’, which was released in January of this year.
It’s a massive document, but the overarching argument of it is, that “… the innate hormonal physiology of mothers and babies—when promoted, supported, and protected—has significant benefits for both during the critical transitions of labor, birth, and the early postpartum and newborn period1.”
These benefits include:
– preparing the baby for life outside the womb, including maturing the fetal lungs in preparation for breathing;
– protecting the baby from reduced oxygen (hypoxia) during labor;
– enhancing labor effectiveness, including during the pushing [bearing down] phase;
– providing the mother with physiologic pain and stress reduction;
– helping to prevent maternal bleeding after birth;
– preparing mother and baby for breastfeeding; and,
– promoting postpartum maternal adaptations, including activation of pleasure and reward centers,
which maximize maternal satisfaction, supporting maternal-infant attachment and infant survival2
The report suggests that when there is interference with the physiological processes of the mother and baby, disruptions occur. Common maternity interventions, such as induction, epidural, and caesarean section are some of the things that hinder the significant benefits outlined above.
The report reiterates that medical interventions have their place, but in healthy mothers and babies, the evidence suggests that leaving mother to birth unhindered allows the physiological processes to take place, so that mother and baby can receive nature’s wonderful advantages. In a presentation on the report held at ACU earlier this year, Buckley suggested that it’s not all or nothing, either. That is, if medical intervention is required, ‘what can we do to add more physiology’? How can we help support, promote, and protect the mother and her baby, so that they can still receive some of these benefits?
To me, this type of approach to pregnancy, labour, and birth makes sense.
We don’t ‘win’ at childbirth. It’s not a sport. There are no medals (aside from the beautiful babies, of course!). But what we can ‘win’ are the benefits afforded to us by mother nature; benefits for baby, but importantly too, for mother – giving her the best start to motherhood.
And to be clear, I’m not saying “Don’t have an epidural or intervention, if it’s required”. What I want for my clients (and women in general) is for them to feel supported and empowered enough to make decisions about their birth – that are right for them – from a place of knowledge rather than from fear.
Elyse Jamieson – Hypnobirthing Practitioner & Doula
Servicing Phillip Island, Wonthaggi, Leongatha, and surrounding areas.
You can read the full report here. I also recommend getting your hands on a copy of Buckley’s book ‘Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering’ for some great insight into the birthing body and how our marvelous cocktail of hormones help us through pregnancy, birth, and into motherhood.