Adrenaline: your heart rate increases, your pupils enlarge, your breathing becomes faster as your body takes in more air and your body quickly surcharges blood towards your vital organs. This is your body’s way for preparing you to take action, mental and physical action in response to a sudden change in environment or situation.
An adrenaline rush is something we have all experience and can be an amazing euphoric feeling. It is triggered in moments of extreme excitement, happiness and positive physical assertion. So why is it such an important hormone to discuss when in labour?
Predominately it can be attributed to the FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE response which as mammals is a primal function instilled within us all. Thousands of years ago this hormone quite literally kept us alive and could be the difference between us meeting a fateful end across from a saber tooth tiger. Maybe the reason for adrenaline production isn’t quite so primal these days but it’s a valuable built-in survival tool and we’ve all know that feeling of your stomach jumping into your throat and your heart feeling like it might explode through your chest.
The thing with adrenaline is it’s a vital survival tool WHEN used at the right moment. Used in the wrong scenario and it can be damaging especially if released early in labour. When adrenaline is released every other function or process happening in your body in that moment has to answer to one simple question IS THIS VITAL FOR OUR SURVIVAL? If the answer is ‘no’ then consider it services rendered…CLOSED FOR BUSINESS.
Imagine you were in labour and had been allowing the love hormones oxytocin to surge through your body, your contractions are flowing with ease and frequency and you are calm and relaxed. If something was to happen to disturb your sense of calm and give rise to panic or stress, then your body will immediately stop releasing oxytocin and begin releasing adrenaline.
Your uterus is not considered a vital organ and instrumental to your fighting response so all the blood following through your muscles allowing your uterus to contract stops, and flows to your head, legs, arms and heart. Although I don’t know of any saber tooth tigers in the labour wards of England the slightest thing can cause you distress and panic whilst in labour. It’s vital to protect your birthing bubble of oxytocin at all costs and ensure that adrenaline is kept at bay so that your body can continue to birth naturally.
Adrenaline does however have a valid place in supporting your birth and many women experience this in the transition phase of labour, when they are fully dilated, and the baby is ready to descend down the birth canal. The body will inject a large surge of adrenaline to allow your fatigued body to transition to this stage of labour and give you the energy to breathe baby down and out. One of the obvious ways to tell if a woman is transitioning is the adrenaline rush can literally jolt them into a complete change in attitude and demeanour. Maybe a once quiet relaxed mum will suddenly feel doubtful of her abilities or some women literally scream ‘I can’t do it’ ‘I want to go home now’. Midwives love to look for these signs and it means the end is near. In this moment it is the birth partner and the midwife’s role to reassure you that the end is coming and that you are doing so well.
The birthing environment and how informed and confident the women feels about birth is the key to ensuring she remains in a state of calm and relaxation. This might sound impossible to imagine but when you have the ability to place yourself in a calm mental state your brain is able to work in harmony with your body and release the right hormones at exactly the right time to allow you to birth naturally, easily and in complete control.
By Ellie Dearden
Hypnobirthing Instructor at Born to Birth Company