In blog 78, Jake learns all about catecholamine and how the stress involved in natural birth benefits Baby. He also discovers when this stress can turn into distress and cause birth trauma.
The catecholamine (stress hormones) adrenaline and noradrenalin are present during labour but have a different effect on Mom and Baby. Stress hormones get Mom going by increasing her alertness and heart rate, and sending more blood to her muscles in readiness to give birth. Stress hormones have the opposite effect on Baby during labour by decreasing his heart rate, slowing down breathing activities and even temporarily paralysing some muscles so Baby doesn’t resist the birthing process. Dad, it is Mom’s instinct that is crying out for you to protect and provide what she needs in the moment so that she can focus on your baby. Relax, Dad, it is not about solely providing forever, but definitely to protect forever. Dad, it is your protection and provision that helps Mom relax, be soft and know: “I’m in good hands, my man will look after us, my man will protect us. My man will provide.” Mom cannot relax if she feels unsafe or insecure. Mom cannot give birth the way nature intended if she is not relaxed. You are important; you are the anchor amidst the storm. It is the stressful experience of birth contractions itself that further increases the levels of catecholamine. This stress is hugely beneficial for Baby in the following ways:
Baby tends to take his first breath quicker.
He is more alert and ready to fall in love with Mom.
His blood oxygen level rises quicker after birth.
He is less likely to suffer from breathing problems because the stress hormones help to absorb excess fluid in the lungs and release lung surfactant needed for gas exchange to make breathing easier. The contractions also help lung function by squeezing extra fluid out of the lungs.
Because the stress hormones speed up the metabolic rate, they enable him to maintain his body temperature.
He can neurologically adapt to life outside the womb much better as can be seen from his reflexes, muscle tone and responses in the two days following his birth.
He is more geared towards feeding, and tends to latch and suckle with more ease.
Babies born by C-section are found not to experience the same levels of catecholamine (stress hormones) as babies born naturally. Depending on Mom’s choice of pain relief, C-section babies’ catecholamine levels may be between two and 10 times lower, their initial responses slower and their suckling weaker. That is why their lungs need to be suctioned and they need more encouragement to latch and sustain feeding. Catecholamine levels in babies born by C-section after the spontaneous onset of labour are much closer to the levels of catecholamine in babies born naturally.
Upright positioning and good breathing during labour greatly reduce the risk of impaired oxygen supply to the baby. While birth stress is beneficial, too much birth stress (called distress) is not a good thing and, unfortunately, Baby’s brain is the most vulnerable of all his organs. Lots of attention is paid nowadays to the prevention of any injury during labour and birth, and that is why prenatal ultrasound is used to determine the position of the baby in case it complicated labour; foetal scalp-blood sampling is done to determine if Baby may be suffering from a shortage of oxygen and a C-section is done if Baby or Mom is in trouble. Despite precautions, birth trauma does happen. Birth asphyxia affects the brain most and occurs when the baby is unable to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen – oxygen is brain food and inhaled, while carbon dioxide is toxic and exhaled. Every time Mom feels a contraction, oxygen to the placenta is temporarily reduced, and the amount of oxygen available to the baby is also reduced. The catecholamine compensates for this and decreases blood flow to the limbs and increases blood flow to the heart and brain so that these two vital organs are not oxygen-starved.
The best birth is the one without preconceived ideas – Zita West
I must have fallen asleep, because I am wakened by the sharp sting of pain. Jake’s hand is resting on my tummy and he has activated the stopwatch on his cell phone.
“If I’m really quiet and still, I can feel the tightening, Zani!” he says in wonder. “Not the hug itself, but I can sense your reaction to it, so I’ve been able to time them. We are progressing. They’re becoming more regular,” he says with a mixture of concern, awe and excitement all over his face.
I stand up, but the sudden movement is not a good idea. I feel disorientated, stiff and sore, but take a deep, slow breath and hold onto Jake’s shoulder to find my feet and straighten up. I have to wee. Fast.