This week we’re going to be talking all about your hormones and what you can do to impact them and make your labor smoother.
You know, as a rule, we don’t know our hormones all that well. You may know their names if you have purposely studied them (or are super interested). However, you may not know what they do to your body. Also, you may not know how they impact and change your body throughout pregnancy and labour.
The goal here is to understand them. That way, you’re able to manipulate them into making the delivery of your baby as smooth and effective as possible.
Progesterone is a hormone that increases throughout your pregnancy. It keeps the smooth muscles of your uterus from having contractions while you are still gestating.
As baby gets bigger, the weight puts stress on your cervix which causes a release of estrogen to start.
Estrogen is a hormone that we hear about all the time. Its job is to counteract that of progesterone.
Estrogen is responsible for preparing the smooth muscle to contract by increasing the number of oxytocin receptors along the uterine lining. It also is responsible for helping coordinate the contractions. Instead of having erratic contractions at different intervals, estrogen makes them more time-able. For example, you hear regularly “my contractions were five minutes apart” or “my contractions are two minutes apart.”
Estrogen makes that happen.
Near the end of pregnancy, as your progesterone levels are starting to drop and your estrogen levels are starting to increase, the estrogen will be starting to counteract some of that progesterone, and Braxton Hicks contractions may begin. These Braxton Hicks contractions are certainly not useless and they’re not early labour, they are your uterus’ way of trying to prepare and tone up the muscles to get ready for real labour.
Another really important hormone to understand is Relaxin.
Now relaxin gets a really bad rep for trying to relax all of the muscles and ligaments in your body, but the purpose of relaxin is to open and relax your pubic symphysis and SI joints to make birth easier.
Your pubic symphysis is the area in between the two sides of your pelvis in the front of your body. In pregnancy, it might be really noticeable when getting out of the car and moving one leg out before the other. This can cause your Pubic Symphysis to shift and pull on the ligaments which can cause pain known as SPD (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction). At birth, Relaxin helps to open your pelvis make it more mobile to make delivering your baby easier, aid in dilation (opening), and effacement (thinning).
Later in pregnancy, we’ll release Prostaglandin hormones.
The pressure on the cervical membrane from baby’s head will start to release the prostaglandin hormone. It is responsible for softening the cervix and is helping it elongate (shorten). Prostaglandins are also found in semen and are released during a stretch and sweep.
Oxytocin is a big player throughout labour.
Not only is it responsible for the contraction of your uterus, but it’s also very important for breastfeeding as well. Oxytocin can be impacted very quickly and substantially by stress.
Have you seen this post on the Fear – Tension – Pain cycle? This is one of those things that take some preparation for labour. Regulating your stress hormones and getting your baseline stress level down as low as possible in pregnancy will help control your pain in childbirth.
The cycle works like this:
The higher your stress levels, the higher your cortisol levels = decrease oxytocin = slower contractions, more pain!
Just like a cat goes into a dark, warm, soft space to be able to give birth, humans are very similar in their biological need for safety. Feeling calm, relaxed, rested, cared for, and safe immediately impact the amount of oxytocin that you’re able to release.
You know Oxytocin as the Love Hormone
Being affectionate with someone will immediately release a rush of oxytocin (pregnant or not). But, during labour this is going to help make your labor faster, your contractions more effective, and if baby’s in a really good spot, it can help you dilate more quickly.
There are many benefits to reducing stress/fear in birth, but the work has to be done ahead of time.
Knowing the necessary positions, coping strategies, and ways to make your labour faster and smoother is where I come in! I teach all of these things in detail in the Empowered Birth Course.
By allowing oxytocin to do its job, prostaglandin, estrogen, and progesterone can do their jobs. Everything ties together and it’s so important to set yourself up for success. In a lot of cases, that starts with doing some mindset work and some relaxation.