The Perfect Dance of Birth Hormones is the theme of Pregnancy Education Week from 18 to 26 February 2017, when childbirth educators, and hospitals around the country highlight how knowledge empowers expectant parents for better pregnancy, birth, bonding and breastfeeding experiences. Childbirth education is proven to have many benefits for expectant parents and the newborn child.
Lynne Bluff, national co-ordinator of the Childbirth Educators’ Professional Forum, explains how antenatal classes can help facilitate an understanding of the interplay of hormones before, after and during birth.
“Our hormone system prepares us in the final weeks, days and hours for an efficient labour; they help manage the pain and stress and ensure a safe birth. Hormones also give us a feeling of intense reward and pleasure as we meet our baby for the first time. For all this to happen in harmony, the birthing hormones need to work together in perfect synchronicity. At childbirth education classes, parents learn these intricate steps. The knowledge and understanding they gain helps facilitate the ‘dance’ for a better birth experience.”
“Four hormones star in the show – oxytocin, endorphins, catecholamines and prolactin. Each brings its own style to the dance of labour. Oxytocin takes the lead, guiding you with love and connection, while catecholamines excite and energize you. Endorphins help you navigate through the daring twists and turns and nurturing prolactin will be there at the dazzling finish to welcome your baby.”
Bluff explains several steps that expectant parents can take to best prepare for this perfect ‘dance’:
- Most importantly you need confidence that you can give birth to your baby, so it’s important to choose a doctor or midwife who instils this confidence.
- Learn the steps. Attend childbirth education classes and learn how the body functions so that you fully understand labour.
- Prepare your body. Exercise will prepare the body for labour and generates higher levels of endorphins which will lead to a shorter, less painful birth. Eating a healthy balanced diet will nourish mother and baby without excessive weight gain. Massaging oil into your growing body is soothing and also helps prepare the skin for rapid expansion, helping prevent stretch marks.
- Practice coping strategies such as visualisations, affirmations and massage. Use these during labour and also stand and move – movement and upright posture enhance endorphin release.
- Give birth in a safe, private and relaxed atmosphere. A calm, supportive environment prevents labour being slowed down by the wrong hormones interacting.
- Recruit a birth support team – whether it’s your partner, a doula, friend or mother. There are wide-reaching physical and emotional benefits to having loving support during the birth.
- Allow birth to begin in its own time. When labour begins naturally, both mother and baby have the optimal number of receptors needed for birth hormones to best facilitate birth.
- Skin to skin contact immediately after birth, allows baby to go through the nine instinctive stages naturally, and increases oxytocin levels for mom and baby, which supports breastfeeding success and enhances maternal-infant bonding.
“We advocate childbirth education because understanding the miraculous process of pregnancy and birth empowers parents to make informed choices,” says Lauren Macnab of Bio-Oil, official partner for Pregnancy Education Week. “There is sound evidence that childbirth education builds confidence, reduces fear and connects pregnant parents with one another for mutual support.”
“Birth is like a dance,” says Bluff. “Knowing the steps allows you to relax and accept the sensations, feel the rhythm and confidently move to labour’s natural beat for a beautiful birth experience.”