Just One Thing – The Process of Birth

My next contributor is Milli Hill, founder of The Positive Birth Movement. I first found Milli through her blog, The Mule, when I was a new parent. She frequently wrote exactly what I needed to hear. Five years ago, she started a Facebook thread about her frustrations at the way birth is spoken about – the fear surrounding birth which makes birth something to dread instead of look forward to. Milli firmly felt that birth, if presented in a positive way and with the right support, can be an empowering and life changing experience of women. It seems that lots of people agreed with her as there are now over 400 Positive Birth groups worldwide! 

I asked Milli to tell me Just One Thing she would say to women and their partners preparing for birth. She has kindly given me permission to share an extract from The Positive Birth Book, published by Pinter & Martin:

The vital role of Oxytocin

If you’re packing your hospital bag, or getting the room all ready for your home birth, it’s a safe bet that you’ve forgotten one vital item. You can’t give birth without it, and you have to provide your own. It’s free, the supply is unlimited, but ignore it at your birth peril. No friends, it’s not inco sheets or paper pants, it’s the wonder hormone, Oxytocin.

Put simply, even if you forget everything else, you need to make sure that Oxytocin is at your birth in extremely large quantities. Oxytocin – sometimes known as the Love Hormone – is produced by your body when you feel safe, happy, warm, cosy and emotionally liberated. You produce it when you are falling head over heels in love. You produce it when you are having really good sex. You produce it when you are breastfeeding, and one day, although this might be hard to visualise right now, you will produce it when you tiptoe into your child’s bedroom and see how beautiful they look when they’re sleeping. And guess what, Oxytocin is the most important hormone in the birth process. It’s the driving force behind every labour contraction, and works so well to get things moving along that women are often given a synthetic version of it in a drip, (Syntocinon or Pitocin) to speed their labour up or just to get it going in the first place.

The good news is, you can make your own abundant supply, but the bad news is, Oxytocin is also known as the ‘Shy Hormone’. Essentially, if you think about the circumstances under which you would have the best sex of your life, versus the circumstances where you would, quite frankly, rather die than have an orgasm, you are already half way to a degree in Oxytocin Studies. Before you get distracted, let’s get you that certificate…

Oxytocin likes: darkness, safety, quiet, warmth, privacy, love. It likes massage, people who whisper, “You’re beautiful”, tea lights, and compilation playlists.

Oxytocin does not like: interruptions, bright lights, strangers, cold, fear, unfamiliarity. It does not like people chit chatting while it is trying to get in the zone, or TV’s on in the background, or rough poky fingers.

Oxytocin is the reason home birth makes a lot of sense. Most of us would rather get jiggy on our own sofa than in a stark delivery room observed by a woman called Barbara we’d only just met (although there’s no accounting for taste). For the same reasons, our chances of producing the labour hormone Oxytocin may well be higher at home: in hospital, we may ‘fail to progress’. In fact, this often happens: women who feel like they are moving towards the ‘cracking on stage’ at home, dash to the hospital in a state of panic only to find that all signs of their labour seem to have disappeared. They get sent home, and everything slowly gets going again. As they say in America, you do the math.

But this doesn’t mean to say that home birth is the only way. Armed with our knowledge of Oxytocin, we can seriously up our chances of a positive hospital birth, and dads and partners can really help with this. Often the partner who is not doing the work of labour can feel like a spare part in the delivery room, but if you make them read this bit of the book, they can have a new sense of purpose as they rise to the challenge of being…drum roll…Guardians of Oxytocin!

Here’s my nuts and bolts guide to Oxytocin for dads and partners:

  • Women need oxytocin to labour effectively.
  • Oxytocin is a ‘shy hormone’, we produce it most when we feel safe, when it’s calm, quiet and dark.
  • Think of the labour room as a cave, with you at the door (loincloth optional) keeping the predators at bay. Guard her space. Guard her oxytocin.
  • Make sure that those people who do come in do so quietly, calmly, and don’t chit chat. Encourage hushed tones. Make the room dark if you can.
  • Adrenaline – the hormone of fear, fight, and flight – is the enemy of oxytocin: it blocks its production. So think about how you can ward off adrenaline and keep it at bay. (shining armour optional)
  • Make your partner feel beautiful and loved. Kiss, massage and caress her if this is what she wants. Hold her in the warmth of your love from a distance if she needs this instead. Follow her lead, just as you (hopefully) do in the bedroom.
  • Learn about the mammal brain and the neocortex (more info in the Positive Birth Book). Do all of the above and more to help your partner stay in the ‘zone’ of labour and not be drawn back into her ‘thinking’ mind. Don’t ask her questions or chat to her. Be quiet and let her be.
  • Remember that your partner may look very different in labour to the way you usually see her. Her internal experience will be very different to how she looks from the outside. She may feel very powerful, for example, but look out of control. Make a pact that if she needs rescuing, she will ask. Otherwise, assume she doesn’t.

If you don’t have a dad or a birth partner to help guard your oxytocin, consider hiring a doula, or thinking about ways that you can promote the production of this hormone for yourself. For example:

  • Have photos of people or places you love, or happy times in your life, near you in your birth space.
  • During pregnancy, take time out each day to breathe and visualise happy and loving times and places. Call on these visualisations in labour.
  • Connect with your baby, if this feels right to you, and focus on your love for them. Imagine this love growing every day once they have been born. Talk to them in your mind as you go through the journey of labour together. They are your ultimate birth partner! •
  • Try to make your birth space, wherever that may be, as dimly lit, cosy and safe feeling as you can.
  • Build a nest or even ‘hide’ in your birth place. Use sheets or blankets, ear plugs, or an eye mask, to block out light and audio / visual stimulation.
  •  Stimulate your nipples or your clitoris during labour, as this will raise your oxytocin levels. This is particularly effective if labour stalls and you want to get things moving.

And there you have it. All you need to know about Oxytocin! Don’t give birth without it!

Milli Hill, Founder of the Positive Birth Movement

Milli’s Book, The Positive Birth Book, is published by Pinter & Martin and is available from Amazon and all major bookseller