Juliet Forsyth-Farrelly (Integrated Certificate in Resilience and Wellness Coaching)
It is common knowledge that the mind and body are linked. In fact, when researching the mind and body connection, the quote “Mens sana in corpore sano” is all too common. Translated into English to mean “a sound mind in a sound body” (“Healthy body, healthy mind”, n.d.) it originally dates all the way back to the 1st Century. In this essay I will look specifically into research pertaining to the link between the mind-body connection and its implications for and on childbirth.
What is the mind-body connection in relation to child birth?
Just as in normal, everyday life if you are feeling positive and have a generally healthy state of mind then your body is more likely to be in good health. The same goes for childbirth. If the mother is in generally good healthy and has a confident, positive frame of mind about the coming birth of her child then she is more likely to have a natural birth, needing less medical interventions and thus heal faster from the physical affects of birth.
“A woman’s health is essential to the good health of her baby. Women who eat well and exercise regularly along with regular prenatal care are less likely to have complications during pregnancy. They’re also more likely to successfully give birth to a healthy baby.” (Tracey Stickler, 2016)
“Women who reported high childbirth self-efficacy had less epidural analgesia during childbirth, compared to women with low self-efficacy.” (Carlsson, Ziegert and Nissen, 2015)
However, the mind-body connection during child birth goes deeper than just utilising the affects of general, good health. During the birthing process a woman’s body releases certain hormones that either aid or inhibit child birth. As Denise Spatafora (2016) states,
“The powerful mind-body connection allows you to be in command of your internal medicine chest and to release more or less of each chemical as you need it. Your mental state can easily affect their availability and effectiveness during labor.
How can positive emotions can have a positive impact on the birth experience?
During the initial stages of birth if a woman is feeling relaxed, confident, calm and in a safe environment then her body will naturally produce a range of hormones to help her body during the labour. These hormones belong to the parasympathetic nervous system. This nervous system is very complex but within this system there are two hormones that are particularly important for childbirth – oxytocin and endorphins. Both of these hormones have positive affects on the body; As Katharine Graves (2012, p.g. 37) mentions oxytocin has been described by Michael Odent as the hormone of love and endorphins are likened to morphine due to their pain inhibiting properties. Katharine Graves, (2012: pg. 37) further states, “So if the mind is in the right place, the body naturally produces oxytocin to make labour efficient, and endorphins to make it comfortable.”
How can negative emotions can have a negative impact on the birth experience?
If a woman is feeling the opposite types of emotions during the initial stages of child birth – stressed, fearful, anxious or scared – then the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This system also produces a range of hormones into the body – in particular adrenaline. Adrenaline is the hormone used by our bodies to help us in times of crisis and regulates the ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies. It focuses all of the bodies resources in preparation to act – blood is sent to the limbs to prepare for movement.
“All your resources, all your energy, go to your arms and your legs, ready to run or fight – which is a great system for dealing with sabre-toothed tigers but absolutely useless when you’re in labour, because you are not going anywhere.” (Katharine Graves, 2016: p.g, 36)
So adrenaline is not an ideal hormone to release into the body during birth. Additionally, if adrenaline is released into the body then it counteracts the affects of oxytocin and endorphins thus making child birth less efficient and less comfortable.
Strategies for promoting positive impacts during child birth:
- In order to promote the bodies release of oxytocin and endorphins, special efforts need to be made to ensure that a woman who is entering labour feels safe, secure, confident and calm. To do this the following should be offered to a woman in of labour;
- A quiet, safe environment with soft lighting to aid relaxation and comfort.
- Supportive, caring and positive carers to help her during the labour process.
- The freedom and choice to do what she intuitively thinks is best for her body.
- These factors will help to promote a positive frame of mind for a woman during the birth. This will then also encourage her body to support the birth process by producing natural hormones like oxytocin and endorphins.
If a woman is in a fearful state of mind during her labour and the sympathetic nervous system is in control then all is not lost. “Three minutes after you shut off the danger signals, the fight or flight response burns out.” Davis et al, 2008.
This could mean that if a woman in labour is feeling scared, stressed, fearful etc then every effort should be made to return to her a more positive frame of mind as soon as possible. This will then allow her body to start making the hormones oxytocin and endorphins to aid her in a more efficient and less painful labour.
It is clear to see from the information outlined that the mind has a huge impact on the body, particularly during the process of labour. When they, the mind and body, work together in unison they can greatly improve the experience of child birth for a woman and her new baby.
- Healthy body, healthy mind. d. In Wikipedia, Wednesday 3rd November 2016.
- Stickler, Tracey. (2016, 16 May). Maintaining a Healthy Pregnancy.
- Sparafora, D. (2016, n.d.). Birthing Begins In The Brain.
- Carlsson, I-M. Ziegert, K. Nissen, E.. (2015). The relationship between childbirth self-efficacy and aspects of wellbeing, birth interventions and birth outcomes. Midwifery, 31(10).
- Graves, K. (2012). The Hypnobirthing Book. Great Britain: Katharine Publishing.
- Davis, M. Eshelman, E.R. McKay, M. (2008). The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. United States: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.