The Cycles of Labour: Pleasure vs Pain

The process of birth is all about cycles whether they relate to pleasure, pain, or intervention. The physical aspect of birth is highly dependent on our emotions. The two main cycles have to do with our emotional and physical being: love/pleasure and fear/pain. Once one series begins, it can continue all the way through your birth. However, it is just as easy to change cycles as it is to continue with another. With some help from your birth team, you (the birthing mother and birth partner) are able to guide yourselves emotionally to determine which path your birth will follow.

If our minds are clouded with negative thoughts then our bodies release adrenaline: the “fight or flight” hormone. In everyday life when our bodies release adrenaline, our muscles receive more blood and oxygen supply so we can run or defend ourselves. This is also true for birth. From evolutionary development, female animal’s bodies have been trained to keep their offspring safe in their wombs if the environment is too dangerous at the time for their baby. During birth, no matter how well the mother is progressing, if she feels any anxiety, doubt, or concern her body will release adrenaline: slowing or reversing her labour. Yes reversing. I.e. if a mother is 8cm and her baby is almost ready to come into the world, then she suddenly feels uneasy, the baby can revert back into the womb, making the mother reverse to 6cm or more. The fear and slowness of this process can make a mother feel more pain for longer periods of time. The more fear the more pain and the more pain the more fear: this is the fear/pain cycle. My goal, as a doula, is to avoid or stray from this path and keep your birth positive.

The more sought after birth involves little pain and negativity. Similar to the previous cycle with fear and pain, if a mother wants a positive birth experience, she needs the mindset to match. When the mother is filled with words of encouragement and assurance her body releases oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for menstruation, attachment, breastfeeding, and birth. Unlike adrenaline, oxytocin helps move birth along and keeps us relaxed. The more oxytocin in the mother’s system, the more contractions she has to push her baby out. I teach women to think of their contractions as sensations rather than pain. When women are confident with their birth it is easier for them to work with their contractions as sensations rather than against them as pain.

The birth process is very sensitive, and it takes a strong birth team and parents to keep the emotional and physical aspects in check. Trust, reassurance, and encouragement are the main rules to live by. If there are any doubts or concerns (from the mother or partner) in the days before or during your labour, discuss them with your birth team or each other as you feel these worries. It is much easier to work with a birth knowing how the parents are feeling than having to guess or assume.  I believe that any woman can achieve the birth she desires as long as she feels supported and confident. She just needs to be willing to put in the effort to do so.


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