Hygiene, better overall health, and antibiotics are responsible for the dramatic drop in maternal morbidity and mortality. Also, advances in medicine have made birth safer for high-risk women and for women with pre-existing medical conditions or serious complications in their current pregnancy.
Increasing evidence shows that the routine use of technology during labor and birth and the use of other routine interventions without a clear medical indication have contributed to the dramatic rise in the cesarean rate and other maternal and newborn complications.
Birth is intended to happen simply, without worry or trouble
Women’s bodies are designed to grow, birth, and nourish babies. In the last weeks of pregnancy, a series of changes occur. The cervix softens and may begin to dilate and the uterine muscle becomes increasingly responsive to oxytocin (a hormone released by the pituitary gland that causes increased contraction of the uterus during labour and stimulates the ejection of milk into the ducts of the breasts).
Pain plays an important role in helping labor progress by insuring that increasing amounts of oxytocin are released. When oxytocin levels are high and the contractions are painful, beta-endorphins or nature’s narcotic are released. Endorphins help women manage the pain of contractions by inducing an almost dream-like state and decreasing pain perception. In a very real sense, nature does not abandon women during labor.
Stress hormones, however, disrupt the process. Especially in early labor, stress and anxiety can stop labor; in active labor, stress can slow progress. Privacy and feeling safe and protected emotionally as well as physically help labors progress smoothly.
Women begin to have an instinctive urge to push as the baby moves down the birth canal. Following the urge, quite naturally, and changing positions in response to what the woman is feeling not only helps the baby descend and rotate but also protects the baby and the birth canal. When the baby is just ready to be born, if oxytocin and endorphin levels are high, a natural release of catecholamines gives women a surge of strength to push the baby out.
The baby is born with high levels of catecholamines and endorphins and is alert and calm. Placed skin-to-skin with his mother, the baby will find the breast and self attach. Even the small movements of the baby, when skin-to-skin with his mother, stimulate the release of maternal oxytocin. Oxytocin facilitates the separation and delivery of the placenta, decreasing the risk of maternal hemorrhage, and sets the stage for efficient milk let down and successful breastfeeding. Babies kept skin-to-skin stay warmer, are less likely to become hypoglycemic, cry less, have more stable heart rates, and breastfeed for a longer duration than babies who are separated from their mother.
Every pregnant woman needs to know that the birth is intended to happen simply and easily and that six key birth practices can make birth safer for mothers and babies.
Let labor begin on its own
It is healthier and safer for both mother and baby to let labor begin on its own.
Walk, move around and change positions throughout labor
Walking, movement, and changing positions during labor help labor progress, enhance comfort, and decrease the risk of complications.
Bring a loved one, family member or friend for continuous support
Continuous emotional and physical support in labor makes birth safer and healthier for mother and baby.
Avoid interventions that are not medically necessary
Each intervention has unintended effects. When interventions are used routinely, they set the stage for a cascade of other interventions, the physiologic process of labor and birth is disrupted, and women and babies are exposed to unnecessary risks.
Avoid giving birth on the back, and follow the body’s urges to push
It is safer and healthier for mother and baby when the laboring mother pushes in positions other than on her back and follows her own urges to push rather than pushing in a directed way.
Keep mother and baby together – it’s best for mother, baby and breastfeeding
Keeping the baby close with her just after birth makes the early hours and days after birth safer for mothers and babies.
Every pregnant woman needs to know that labor and birth are simply and beautifully designed. In order to keep labor and birth as safe as possible, and to minimize the risk of complications, it is essential to respect the simple, natural, physiologic process of labor and birth and not interfere in any way, unless there is a clear medical indication. There is an optimal way to give birth, and this is it.