This article is also published in Pathways to Family Wellness
In Parts I and II of “Pregnancy Preparedness,” I discuss the importance of “Natural Childbirth Education” and “Parenting Identity.” Confidently preparing for a healthy pregnancy and labor requires education and knowing your parenting style and identity. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the powerful role that hormones play in pregnancy, labor and postpartum.
During pregnancy, the female body and baby are undergoing immense physiological changes. While mom-to-be is busy baby showering, sipping pregtinis and swimming in a sea of diaper cakes, her body is hard at work producing the perfect hormonal concoction for her and baby. During pregnancy, emotions can run high, making mom feel like her pregnant body is being held captive on a roller coaster of feelings, sensations and changes. But these hormonal changes are purposeful. Whether the pregnant woman feels hotter than a jalapeño or as irritable as a road rager, the hormones are working their magic, helping the body prepare for labor and delivery.
Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, M.D., is the foremost expert on the subject of pregnancy and hormones. Buckley (2010) writes, “Mother Nature, in her wisdom, prescribes birthing hormones that take us outside our usual state, so that we can be transformed on every level as we enter motherhood.” Planning to labor with minimal drugs or medical interventions allows your body to experience the benefits of your hormones because, during labor, these hormones assist in the feel-good sensations of an “ecstatic” birth (Buckley 2010).
Oxytocin, endorphins and prolactin are some of the key players in the hormonal mix. Oxytocin, the “love” hormone, is synthetically reproduced and used in the drug form Pitocin, which, while often administered to stimulate contractions, pales in comparison to its prototype natural oxytocin. Oxytocin not only encourages the uterus to contract, helping the baby move down and out, it benefits the pregnant body by promoting energy conservation, nutrient absorption and anti-stress effects (Buckley 2010). After birth, oxytocin assists the expulsion of breast milk and helps the uterus continue to contract, warding off the potential of hemorrhaging (Odent 1998).
Hormones are also involved in the well known “fight or flight” sensation, which is an evolutionarily prominent mechanism of survival. For example, if a laboring lion feels threatened, her labor will stall due to increased adrenaline. That same process occurs in humans. In hospital births, under the pressure of policies, procedures, strangers and medical interventions, the laboring body can react to this unnatural environment. Thus, it’s no wonder labor may plateau (Buckely 2010).
Creating a secure atmosphere for labor to resume and progress is therefore vitally important. The Bradley Method® teaches couples how to create a safe and private place to labor under any circumstance. Coaches are encouraged to protect the laboring mother and ward off potential disturbances that could disrupt the progress of labor. Informed and knowledgeable couples who can rebuild their sense of security will get their labor back on track. A mother who chooses to avoid drugs, allowing her body to navigate her hormonal map, reaps the benefits of greater awareness and control of her surroundings. She’s better prepared to adapt and advance naturally during labor.
Once baby has made his or her debut, prolactin, the “mothering” hormone, allows mother to nurse with natural effectiveness. After all, labor is an event of grand proportions. Mothers feel exhausted, fatigued, uncomfortable, shaky, uncertain and sensitive. But all of these emotions are minor compared to the immense power of love. The body’s natural production of prolactin calms mother and enhances how she perceives her surrounding environment, thereby easing everyone’s anxieties and stress (Bradley 2008). Hormones are naturally occurring and given the chance, untainted by synthetic drugs, they encourage pregnant, laboring and breastfeeding mothers to embrace the joys of motherhood fully.
Bradley, R. (2008). Husband-Coached Childbirth (5th ed.). New York, NY: Bantam Dell.
Buckley, S. (2010). Ecstatic Birth, Nature’s Hormonal
Blueprint for Labor (e-Book). Retrieved from
Odent, M. (1998). “Don’t manage the third stage of labour!” Pract Midwife 1(9): 31-3.