In blog 77, Zani snuggles up to Jake while he makes sure he knows how the onset of labour takes place, which hormones play a role, how birth stress impacts on Mom and Baby, and how Mom’s instinct gets jump-started.
Our plan is for me to be fresh, rested and fed during the first phase of labour when the hugs are mild, so that I can store up energy for the second, toughest and longest stage. So far everything is going according to plan.
We have subscribed to an e-learning program by Dr Melodie de Jager and have bookmarked it for today, so we can watch while we wait. Or rather, so Jake can watch it, since it is important to him to know what is happening and why. I don’t need to do any thinking at all; Jake is there to take care of me.
So, we place the soup, salad and fresh bread on the table in front of the couch, get plates, bowls, cutlery, glasses and a jug of water, because I have to stay hydrated.
“Jake, I feel a hug …”
Startled, Jake glances nervously at his watch and pulls me closer.
“You okay though, right?”
“Yup,” I smile, “I can do this.”
We dish up, settle in and Jake pushes Play.
HOW DOES BIRTH IMPACT ON A BABY’S BRAIN DEVELOPMENT? Birth is the natural conclusion to pregnancy and the time when you are finally going to meet your baby! It is not as though the two of you do not know each other; you have been living together in the most intimate way possible for more or less 40 weeks, communicating with each other – Mom talking and thinking and Baby kicking and turning, sometimes even sending a heartburn message. Mom and Dad, if you have been attending antenatal classes you would have been preparing for the big day. No matter how excited you are, the stories told by others, the books you’ve read and the videos you’ve seen may have made you doubt your ability – or rather your body’s ability to cope with what is about to happen. One of the greatest misconceptions about birth is that Mom does all the work and Baby is simply a passenger. It is not true – Baby works just as hard as you to safely get to the other side. Birthing is team work – Team Mom-and-Babe! It is the baby who determines when it’s the optimal time to be born – not too early, while he still needs the comfort and care of the womb, but also not too late when the placenta has started to become insufficient. This process starts near the end of the pregnancy when Baby’s heartbeat and stress hormone levels rise to increase the flow of blood to his heart, lungs and brain. The baby’s brain reads the surge in stress hormones as the sign to initiate the onset of labour and in turn sends stress hormone signals to the placenta to produce enzymes to stimulate the production of oestrogen and decrease the production of progesterone. Let’s have a quick look at these three birth hormones:
Oestrogen (with the help of other hormones) ripens the cervix, strengthens the contractions and prepares the receptors for the surge of oxytocin.
Oxytocin helps to maintain contractions until the baby is safely delivered during stage 2 of labour and the placenta expelled during stage 3 of labour. It also loads the breasts with colostrum (early milk) and warms Mom’s skin so she is a ready and available ‘incubator’ when Baby is placed skin on skin the moment after being born. Oxytocin is also called the love hormone or the bonding hormone.
Progesterone plays a part in conception, implantation and the thickening of the womb lining – in other words, progesterone helps Mom to hold onto Baby, while oestrogen helps Mom to let go of Baby.
I feel another hug. It has been five minutes since the last, and Jake makes a note on his cell phone. Then he continues listening to Dr De Jager: Birthing is exciting, challenging, stimulating and stressful for both Mom and Baby. As labour progresses, the contractions become longer, stronger and closer together – Mom is in pain, uncomfortable and experiencing stronger contractions by the minute. Baby is experiencing stress when the world as he knows it is steadily being destroyed by contractions that push him into a birth canal that moulds his skull, threatens to squash his whole body through a hole that seems way too small and towards a bright light he has never seen before. As this happens, the birth hormones that help Mom become alert and focused, also prime Baby’s life-sustaining systems to take over life support in the outside world. His body undergoes intense skin and proprioceptive stimulation, which gives his nervous system a boost, and at the same time, this pressure ‘squeezes’ the chest and lungs, forcing out excess fluid so that he can breathe with ease once he is born. Mom and Dad, rest assured, research has proven time and time again that birth stress is good for Baby so he is prepared and able to survive outside the womb. I find Lise Eliot’s comment so reassuring, especially because she is a scientist and a mom!
It is very unlikely that natural selection would go through all the trouble of building our large sophisticated brains only to damage a large portion of them on the way out of the womb.
Mom and Dad, birth stress is also good for Mom. It is a little like climbing a very high mountain, or running the Comrades Marathon or swimming the Midmar Mile or participating in a dance marathon in a way that seems humanly impossible. Not only does it seem impossible, you (and others) seriously doubt your sanity to willingly want to do it. Mom, it is your instinct talking when you want to have this baby the way nature intended baby to be born. It is your instinct that says: the design is flawless. It is your instinct knocking on the door and telling you to stop working early enough so you can connect with instinct, rest and relax so your body can do what it was designed to do. Instinct is no partner of stress or rushing around or thinking too much, neither is it found near logic. Instinct partners with your heart, not your head.
I feel another hug. Four minutes.