5 ways to protect your birth space
Did you know your environment can affect how your birth proceeds? It can stall your labor or help it to flow on. It can help your contractions to feel more like waves and less like pain, or it can contribute to a more painful labor. Protecting your birth space is one important way to help labor progress and to contribute to a peaceful birth experience.
why is it important to protect your birth space?
Protecting your birth space is important because of a few key birth hormones. This post really is not intended to cover birth hormones in depth, but we can’t talk about the impact of the environment on labor without talking about birth hormone basics. It’s important to note that the introduction of pain-relieving medication and/or synthetic oxytocin impacts the release of birth hormones (look for a post later covering epidural use). Our discussion here focuses on the function of hormones in a vaginal birth where medications are not used.
oxytocin & adrenaline
Oxytocin is one of the star hormones of birth. Known as the “love hormone,” it causes the uterus to contract and is thus responsible for keeping labor going. The ideal setting for oxytocin to thrive is one where you feel completely safe and secure. Oxytocin can be boosted by being close to your loved ones. You know the ones. The ones you actually want near you. The ones who are completely safe.
Adrenaline essentially functions as the antithesis of oxytocin. Adrenaline is released in our bodies as part of the stress response cycle: “fight or flight.” When our stress response system is activated, adrenaline and other stress response hormones funnel all our body’s resources toward fighting or fleeing. Our heart rate increases, blood is shunted toward our limbs, digestion slows down. Guess what else slows down. Yup. Labor. So it’s important to keep your birth space nice and comfy and safe, whatever that looks like for you.
Adrenaline is also a key player in the Fear/Tension/Pain cycle. The Fear/Tension/Pain cycle looks like this:
The more fear you have, the more tension you’ll have, the more pain you’ll experience. The more pain you experience, the more afraid you are.
So if you are in an environment that is causing you to feel afraid (maybe your doctor is pressuring you to consent to an invasive procedure, or your aunt keeps barging in, or your partner is freaking out a little), your body will be more tense, which will contribute to you experiencing your labor as more painful.
The way out of the Fear/Tension/Pain cycle is to replace fear with feelings of security and safety and to replace tension with relaxation. It’s easy to see how your environment can either help or hinder this process.
Another way out of the Fear/Tension/Pain cycle is to support the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relief; they’re what make up a “runner’s high.” Endorphin release is supported when we feel safe and secure and when we are in “the zone,” “labor land,” “flow,” or whatever you know it as. It’s a kind of euphoric state. Unfortunately, this state is easily interrupted by outside stimuli. Bright lights, someone asking for your medical history and allergies for the 8th time, a frigid draft from the A/C, etc.
5 ways to protect your space
1) Dim the lights. This reduces stimulation, promotes relaxation, and fosters the release of melatonin, which is a close buddy to our friend oxytocin.
2) Keep it quiet. Turn off your phone and the television. Ask your birth team to silence their phones and to speak in soft tones. If you are birthing in a hospital, ask hospital staff to turn down the volume on medical equipment. A quiet environment reduces stimulation,
promoting the release of endorphins and helping prevent the Fear/Tension/Pain cycle.
3) Manage the temperature. If you are able to adjust the thermostat to your preference then do it! If not, enlist your partner or doula to help keep you comfortable. Temperature discomfort is just one more distraction standing between you and that lovely flood of endorphins.
4) Keep the wrong people out and the right people in. Decide in advance who you want supporting you during labor and let those people know. Also make sure to
communicate with those who you don’t want present in case they might show up uninvited (it might be awkward to have the conversation but I promise it is worth it). Hang a sign on the door of your hospital room asking people to knock and to enter quietly. Ask hospital staff to limit interruptions. Promote oxytocin release by guarding your feelings of safety and security.
5) Make it your space. Do whatever you can do to make your birthing space feel cozy. Bring your own pillow or blanket, keep your favorite essential oil nearby to sniff, play nature sounds or meditation music softly in the background, wear something that you’re comfortable in (I’m a big fan of fuzzy socks). Adorn your homebirth space with houseplants, candles, or fairy lights.
The goal is to create a birthing space that fosters the release of oxytocin and endorphins; that minimizes fear, tension, and adrenaline release; and that just makes you feel good. If you can make this happen, you’ll do your hormones (and yourself) a favor and you’ll be well on your way to a peaceful birth.