Why Homebirth? Part One: Hormones

Birth is vital, raw, and powerful. The natural birthing process involves a cascade of hormones that strengthen contractions, deepen mother-infant bonding, and bring on sensations of euphoria. Routine medical practices, from Pitocin labor augmentation to unfamiliar people and bright lights, can interfere with these natural hormones. It is much easier to support the natural hormones of birth in the comfort of your home.

Under ideal birthing conditions, the birthing mother is flooded with oxytocin, the hormone of love, trust, and attraction. During labor, there is a positive feedback response in which high levels of oxytocin promote a further increase in oxytocin levels. This oxytocin creates effective uterine surges. As these surges intensify, the body releases Beta-endorphins, which are feel good hormonal opiates we are familiar with from intense exercise. Beta endorphins can help mom experience the primal intensity of birthing as euphoric, and wonderfully alter her birthing experience. As birth gets nearer, mom’s Beta-endorphins and oxytocin levels soar. The highest levels of oxytocin a woman ever has are present at the end of labor through birth and immediately after. This means that during birth, mom and baby have the opportunity to feel deep love and trust greater than any other time in life.

Synthetic Pitocin interferes with the natural hormonal cascade in several ways. First of all, when a mom receives Pitocin, this synthetic hormone fills her oxytocin receptor cites, blocking her natural oxytocin. While Pitocin effectively strengthens and brings on uterine contractions, it does not cause sensations of love and trust like oxytocin. Pitocin also does not stimulate the release of Beta-endorphins, so laboring mothers often request pharmaceutical pain relief.

Supporting the hormonal cascade of birth is fairly instinctual. Mammals do this by finding a safe, dark, quiet, private space to birth. For a woman this equates to having trusted caregivers in a familiar and safe setting, where mom can fully relax into her birth.

Maternal hormones respond to stimuli from the environment, among other things. Imagine a laboring cat in her private dark corner. Then imagine wheeling her away to a veterinary clinic, hooking her up to multiple machines and shining bright lights on her private parts! When a laboring animal is disrupted, her labor will stop. Women have a similar hormonal response. Unless birth is imminent, stress hormones slow or stall labor, and also increase maternal pain. So for a long, slow, painful birth, choose an unfamiliar, brightly lit, loud birth setting with caregivers you have never met! If you’d rather experience gentle birth, overwhelming love, and euphoria, support the natural birthing hormones by choosing a familiar environment (like your own home) with caregivers you know and trust.

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