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Rebranding natural birth

 
Natural birth needs a new marketing campaign – what if it was easy and comfortable? A pregnant midwife takes a new look.
By Sally-Jane Cameron

Pic: Shutterstock

Article originally in Parent24
What are the first 5 words that spring to mind when you think about natural birth? I asked this question on Twitter and Facebook. I imagine that your answers are a lot like these: pain, agony, labour, hospital and hard work .

Some people did mention more positive words like achievement, power, life changing etc., but not surprisingly no one said easy, comfortable, fast or pain-free. ‘Well of course they did not!’ I hear you say after all birth is painful. Or is it? What if the view that we have about birth is broken?

Birth on TV


The images about birth we have seen on TV or in the media often involve women screaming in pain. And while we know that the media needs the excitement factor, these images are not that far from the truth. As a midwife I have had many woman tell me they are dying during birth.

I birthed my 2 children at home and while they were amazing wonderful life changing moments, they were painful and I admit to being less than quiet. So our idea that birth is painful is reinforced by not only the media but the birth stories that other women take great delight in sharing.

It was not always like this. History, religion and the shift of birth from home, surrounded by other women, to a hospital has change the face of birth. Medical advances cannot be ignored, they save the lives of moms and babies when necessary.

What we do need to look at is the perception that birth is dangerous and painful. It is this expectation that our subconscious brings to birth that robs us of an experience that could be very different, even in a hospital setting.

Is the idea of a comfortable birth just a dream or a blessing bestowed on a lucky few?

For my birth this third time round, I was convinced it could be different, so I started a Hypnobirthing course. It is not some strange hippy mind trance but rather a way of retraining our subconscious. By teaching deep relaxation and retraining the subconscious to be calm, the elusive comfortable birth may not be a myth.

Physical causes of pain

If we look at the physiology of labour and how the body works, we see that there is no physical reason for the pain except fear and tension.

The uterus has 3 layers of muscles that work in harmony to birth the baby. They work best when the mother is relaxed. In this relaxed state she breaths deeply and slowly which help the muscles move up and open the cervix.  Endorphines, the body's natural painkillers, are released, helping to block catecholamines, the stress hormones that negatively affect birthing muscles.

But the subconscious is powerful. If you expect pain, reinforced by stories and media, it is what you will feel. Expecting birth to be painful leads to a flight, fight or freeze response, it pumps blood to vital organ and away from the uterus. This response is designed to protect us in times of danger.

In all mammals, a female giving birth will stop if she is disturbed or threatened. So when faced with a sabre-toothed tiger or danger, our ancestors needed this response to delay or slow down labour until it was safe again. The problem is that we have taken this expectation of pain and danger into our normal birthing environment even when this danger is not there.  

If more women had comfortable births and the message spread it would be what we expected, we would not need courses to retrain our subconscious, we would be relaxed and excited with no expectation of pain and no need to plan the cocktail of drugs.

I am not sure if this is ever possible or is the pain message too ingrained? We need a marketing campaign to get this message out: birth is not a sabre-toothed tiger!

If natural birth was thought of as calm, comfortable and easy, do you think it would be more appealing as a birth choice?
Read more on: birth  |  pain  |  pregnancy  |  natural birth
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