Surrendering to birth: 5 things every expectant mom needs to know

A Visit with Michel Odent, MD

What happens when a mother gives birth? Visualize a laboring woman working very hard. The primitive part of her brain releases hormones, such as oxytocin, endorphins, and prolactin -- just the same as all other birthing mammals. As this woman is laboring and giving birth, there is an instinctive mechanism of self-protection at work within her body. When she is laboring effectively, she is "not with us." Minus her normal inhibitions, she does things she would never do -- scream, cry, shout, curse.

Any situation where there is a high peak of oxytocin -- giving birth, coming to orgasm, milk ejection -- will require that a woman feels secure. Just as with any sexual experience -- and birth is a sexual experience -- inhibition can take place. And just as it is impossible to make love when you feel insecure, it can also be impossible for a woman to open up and give birth in an environment where she does not feel safe and comfortable. The birthing woman needs first and foremost to be protected.

How can you help to protect the birthing woman? There are many ways to reduce the activity of the neo-cortex, the "brain of the intellect" -- protecting the birthing woman, and allowing her to surrender any remaining inhibitions to the power of birth.

1. Privacy. It is crucial that the birthing woman not feel observed. We accept the fact that privacy in non-human animals giving birth is a basic need. An animal giving birth will postpone the birth until she feels safe and protected. A human mother also needs to feel safe and secure to birth normally. Too many people can inhibit the behaviors that will make for an easy birth. A birthing woman may feel more comfortable if those present at the birth stand behind, rather than in front of her. She might be most comfortable giving birth, cradled in the loving arms of her partner.

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