6 Ways to Prepare for Childbirth - Part 1
Updated: Jan 22
OK, there are more than six ways to prepare for childbirth of course. Just look at all the books out there! But six is exactly how many Healthy Birth Practices Lamaze has and they form such an excellent evidence-based blueprint.
So what are they and why are they so important?
#1 Let labor begin on its own
Why? Because labor starts well before labor starts. The same hormones that regulate labor, birth, breastfeeding, and bonding – oxytocin, catecholamines, endorphins, and prolactin – and orchestrate the perfect chemical interactions for the best possible outcome, are also involved in preparing us and our baby for labor and birth.
Oxytocin levels increase as pregnancy progresses and there is a surge a few days before spontaneous labor. This has two functions. One, it preps our body to have optimal levels of oxytocin and oxytocin receptors in order to increase the likelihood that everything gets off to the best start. And two, increased oxytocin levels prep the baby for the upcoming birth by reducing the oxygen requirement of its brain during labor, thus providing a neuroprotective effect. Mind blown!
Oxytocin is our love hormone, but only the endogenous kind is. Pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin used in inductions, does not affect our bodies the same way. It does not result in feeling well, orgasm, or breastmilk let down. We can increase our natural oxytocin with hugs, a candle-lit dinner, or a last minute get-away (close to home!). Enjoy some together time in the last days before your baby is here!
Endorphins are the best. They gradually increase during pregnancy and research has shown that regular exercise raises endorphins as well, which helps us later, during labor. Power! Yes, we are uncomfortable at best towards the end of our pregnancy but endorphins will make you feel better! It's science!
Catecholamines increase sharply in the baby a few days before labor starts. You may wonder why we'd want this since catecholamines are involved in all things stress related, but this process is key in preparing your baby's lungs for breathing immediately after birth by reducing the amount of fluid in the lungs. Once the baby is ready to be born, surfactants in the baby's lungs are secreted into the amniotic fluid. This sets off a series of processes resulting in changes in the uterus which start the labor process.
Prolactin, you guessed it, also increases during pregnancy and possibly surges the day before spontaneous labor starts. Besides being key in establishing breastfeeding, prolactin plays a role in maturing babies' lungs as well as helping them regulate their body temperature after birth.
So you see, there are many reasons to wait for labor to start on its own as long as you and your baby are doing well. We're just not ready otherwise. All of these processes are crucial in order for both of you to be as healthy as possible. There are a few other things you can do to help raise the endogenous hormone levels besides enhancing your sense of well-being and exercising. Massage, acupressure, acupuncture, and nipple stimulation can also provide ways to raise hormone levels in non-pharmacological ways if needed.
It is at times necessary to intervene in this process for medical reasons but not all reasons brought forward are based on sound evidence. For a surprising number of conditions, the effectiveness of induction has not been proven and for others, more research is needed. If you face a possible induction, the information here may help you make informed decisions for yourself and your baby. A doula can support you in these situations as well.
Coming soon: Healthy Birth Practice #2