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‘Realistic Positivity’ - Part 1

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

A little bit of theory

To kick things off Grow and Gather will be bringing you a mini-series focused on positive birth; what does a ‘positive birth’ mean, why does it matter and how can we achieve it. Our posts will look at ways we can be realistic about the twists and turns that labour may take and how to remain calm and positive during pregnancy and birth, no matter how unpredictable it can be. In our first post we will be looking at the hormone oxytocin and how the mind and body are linked. Whilst we can’t wait to share some Grow and Gather top tips for a positive birth, we thought it would be good to have a little bit of the theory before the practical! We will then have a look at the postnatal period and what to do if things haven’t gone to plan. Lots to discuss.

I first learnt about the amazing hormone oxytocin during my training as a midwife and as I watched more and more women birth their babies, I was amazed by how beautifully this ‘love hormone’ can work. Later, as I trained to be a hypnobirthing teacher and went on to birth my own babies, I learnt even more about the importance of oxytocin and how its production is affected bythings like environment, care providers or our mindset.

In comparison to the better-known hormone adrenaline, oxytocin is fairly under-researched. The studies we do have, have shown that after being injected with oxytocin, mice become less anxious, have a diminished sensation of pain, lower levels of stress hormones and faster wound healing. Oxytocin is powerful stuff. But oxytocin is shy and its flow can be interrupted by bright lights, noise or feeling observed.

During a shift on labour ward, I remember answering the phone to a panicked Dad. He was worried that their baby was about to make an unplanned appearance at home and after listening to the sounds his partner was making, I was pretty sure that the baby was on its way! I even considered asking them to call an ambulance as I wasn’t sure they would make it to hospital in time. When they did appear mum-to-be was completely comfortable, talking away and not a contraction to be seen! Her labour had completely stopped. The woman eventually told me how much she hated hospitals and admitted to feeling prettyanxious. After some reassurance and moving into a calm, private, dark space, baby made an appearance two hours later.

In our midwifery training we get taught about the ‘3 Ps’ of birth; power, passage and passenger. The theory is that all of the ‘Ps’ need to be working effectively in order for birth to progress in a straightforward manner. Alongside the contractions (power), the pelvis (passage) and the baby (passenger), I think we have often forgotten another ‘P’ that might play a role. A woman’s psyche. Our emotional state is so important. And the influence our mind has during birth is not a new concept.

Whilst ‘hypnobirthing’ or ‘positive birth’ might sound very modern, the connection between mind and body was a topic being discussed by Obstetricians and Midwives in the 1940s. In 1942 Grantly Dick-Read wrote a book titled ‘Childbirth Without Fear’ (if nothing else, the front cover is pretty epic) and put forward his idea that fear can cause our muscles to tense up and when we tense up this increases our feelings of pain, causing us to be more fearful, a ‘Fear-Tension-Pain’ cycle. A pretty unhelpful cycle to be in when labouring for sure. Grantly was way ahead of his time in realising how important a woman’s psyche is in the birth process and how our mindset can affect the progress of birth, or in his words “tense woman – tense cervix”. Grantly first coined the term ‘natural childbirth’ and was the first president of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) but his ideas around natural childbirth (hypnosis! Husbands in the birthing room! Active birth!) were so outrageous to his medical colleagues at the time that he lost his license to practice in the clinic which he had set up. Fast forward to 2021 and his model is now pretty mainstream in the birth world.

Hypnobirthing is becoming increasingly popular for many women and their birth partners. Based on some of Dick-Read’s work, hypnobirthing teaches that ‘where the mind leads, the body follows’ and encourages women to focus on a positive, strong mindset throughout pregnancy. Our bodies are often influenced by our minds; we blush when we are embarrassed, we salivate when people talk about food, our bowels do weird and wonderful things when we are stressed. The mind-body connection is strong and increasingly western society is starting to realise the importance of this link. More people are doing mindfulness or practicing yoga. Meditation is becoming more mainstream. Why shouldn’t we also focus on the mind when it comes to birth?

I would also suggest that alongside our ‘psyche’ there are a great deal of other ‘Ps’ that can affect the birth process. Healthcare Provider, Place of Birth, Position in labour, Pain relief. All deserving of their own blog posts!

So there you have it. A little bit of the theory. Next time we will be discussing how hormones and the mind body connection relate to some of our birth practices (like getting told to stay at home for a bit longer when you call the hospital!) and what we can do in our pregnancies to prepare for birth so that we can approach the process with excitement rather than fear.

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