I never really thought much about how I’d get the baby out; to be frank I’m a genuinely in the moment person, I tackle things as they happen and I don’t get scared of much, expect for missing my train and being late. It often bemuses me that women get so frightened about the birth, and that the main worry is ‘how is that going to get out of there’. This seems especially perplexing when women aren’t often frightened by thoughts of, ‘how is that baby going to grow in me?’, ‘how is that tiny small fist sized womb going to grow and expand so my baby is going to fit in it?’. The body expanding and growing to accommodate baby is something we are largely accepting of and don’t spend too much time focusing on.
While pregnant women generally just carry on with their lives, complaining of tweaks and pressure here and there. The more unfortunate ones may have more physical challenges such as SPD, or bad reflux as the baby grows and the stomach is pushed upwards. However, women don’t fear these, they accept them, find ways of managing and just carry on with the pregnancy.
So why do we trust and accept that our bodies are going to expand and stretch enormousl?That our womb will grow from the size of small fist to the size of a large basketball and that all our internal organs will reorganise themselves, but we don’t accept that our body is designed to actually birth our baby? WE GROW A BABY, with tiny hands, ears, eyes, arms, legs and a heart. How incredibly amazing is that? And you know what, we generally don’t think about it at all, our body just does it and we just accept it. We don’t question that our heart gets larger, that our organs are pushed upwards and that our lung capacity gets smaller. Do we think, “oh no, I won’t be able to breath properly, I need help to expand my chest and get more oxygen in me”, no we don’t. This video shows how your internal organs are designed to reorganise themselves during pregnancy.
Grantly Dick-Reid, the man whose ideas underpin many other modern approaches to undisturbed physiological birth, understood that fear can slow labour down. He spent a good amount of time in his antenatal classes reassuring women and teaching them how their bodies were designed to birth by telling them exactly what happens as they go into labour. His book Childbirth Without Fear is still a great book to read if you want to know more about what your body is designed to do.
Nowadays some antenatal teachers will demonstrate how our vaginas expand by pushing a doll through the neck of polo neck jumper, explaining how the muscles of your vagina relax and stretch. Others might use the example of an erection to help women understand that soft tissue in their body is designed to expand and that it’s soft tissue for a reason. When a man has an erection his penis always stretches very easily and very comfortably! Then it always goes back to its normal size.
One midwife I know made me laugh when she said to me once, “I wish I could say in a class that your vagina is like a bucket, because it is during labour”. Many mums I know describe that second stage when baby is being born as the easiest as that’s the moment they realise that they’ve nearly done it and it’s ok.
Here are some facts about the birth that may help you understand how incredible your body is during labour as well as during pregnancy.
The hormone relaxin relaxes the body’s muscles, joints, and ligaments. Not surprisingly, the effect centers on the joints of the pelvis, allowing them to stretch during birth. It also softens and lengthens the cervix and helps relax and smooth muscles in the uterus and elsewhere throughout the body. The vagina is like an accordion; it can stretch and return to its normal shape with the help of relaxin.
Baby’s head shape and a stretchy vagina
The baby’s head must be small and flexible to fit through the birth canal. The bones of a baby’s skull are soft and are able to mold into different positions. This is why babies that have been resting low in the pelvis waiting for delivery sometimes have pointy heads. The pieces of the skull are like a jigsaw, and can move easily to allow baby to move through the birth canal and then grow and expand over the first years of life to accommodate baby’s quickly growing brain.
To allow it to do what it’s meant to do, mum should be as relaxed as possible, this is something else we teach on our classes. Like any other tissues or muscles in our body, tension can make the job harder than it’s meant to be.
This great article explains the history of how our heads changed in utero to accommodate evolutionary changes in humans.
This one also explains the changes in your baby’s head from birth to ex-utero .
If you are worried about sex and the shape of your vagina this great little article talks about how incredible that soft tissue is.
A flexible coccyx
Your coccyx is designed to move out of the way as your baby’s head descends. This is why not lying on your back is important; if you have freedom of movement, it allows the coccyx freedom to move. The sacrococcygeal joint, the joint between the sacrum and the coccyx or tailbone, also softens in pregnancy; it is designed to swivel backwards to widen the outlet of the pelvis as the baby emerges.
If you can get your hands on an artificial pelvis you can see how a woman’s coccyx moves but a man’s doesn’t.
Increased discharge/amniotic fluid
As you near labour your body might be producing more discharge and it may be thicker, this is due to hormonal changes as you near labour, but also helps baby to slip out. Equally amniotic fluid can help moisten the vagina and assist baby’s descent. Babies can sometimes be born very quickly once the head has been birthed and the midwife catches a slippery baby!
Oxytocin is our best friend during labour and an incredible hormone. When we go into labour oxytocin levels go up, which increases beta-endorphins (feel good hormones) which help you body naturally manage any strong sensations in your body by producing your body’s own natural relief.
At Mindful Mamma we love oxytocin and on our classes we focus on how to make sure that you give birth in an an environment favourable to oxytocin.
Read more about oxytocin here http://bringbirthhome.com/birth-experience/role-of-oxytocin-during-childbirth/
Just as you know instinctively how to birth and to get into the correct positions during labour to help your baby out, your baby knows how to help itself out. Often this is a good reason not to take drugs that can cross the placenta and make baby drowsy. An alert, unmedicated baby will help itself out by wriggling, and moving about to help its way into the world. This little video shows how this is, and I love the little kicks the baby gives as if it were diving into the world.
If you’re a practitioner or a mum who knows of a particularly interesting description of how birth works that may have be a lightbulb moment for you or for the people you teach, please share your descriptions.