Birth: The Basics and the Overlooked
Most of us are familiar with the concept that how we structure our life impacts the life we live. It’s a reflection of our values, and sometimes it even transforms our values. This concept of structuring the things around us, whether it’s the way we spend our time, the conversations we have with ourselves and others, or the groups we affiliate ourselves with, can add constructive or destructive value to our lives. At the beginning and the end of the day, structure matters. It provides the formative framework for events to take shape around us. This concept can be especially powerful for birth outcomes of expectant mothers. It matters how we structure our thoughts and words before, during, and even after labor. It matters how we structure our birth team. It matters how we cater to our physical structure through nutrition, movement, and ensuring proper neurophysiological function of the pelvis and surrounding structures.
The way we structure our THOUGHTS – what we say to ourselves and others – can set the stage for one of two mindsets: an empowered mentality or a victim mentality. Contact our Mansfield chiropractors to learn more.
Prior to the onset of labor, it’s crucial to not only dip the mind into the waters of affirmative self talk and visualization, but to also address some of the fears you might have. By directly acknowledging fears (Can I really do this? What if something goes wrong? Am I prepared enough? Etc.), we give them less power over us. The mind can easily become a battlefield, and we have to train the mind to be aware of our self-talk so that we can begin the process of reframing thoughts from those that work against us into ones that ultimately help us grow and excel. If we believe birth to be scary, it will be scary. If we believe birth to be a beautiful process that expands not only who we are, but what we thought we were capable of, that is exactly what it will be. Birth can be and IS beautiful with the right perspective, regardless of how it unfolds.
Paying attention to our thoughts and words prior to birth becomes an exercise of hardwiring the brain to trust the body. Without this preparation prior to birth, without spending the time to connect with and trust the deepest aspects of the self, each contraction during labor can bring with it a wave of fear, and fear then kickstarts a fear-tension-pain cycle, slowing the progression of labor and increasing the likelihood of inviting medical intervention into the process. One of the best pieces of advice I received prior to my own labor was from a friend who told me that she “refused to feel fear” when she gave birth to her first child. This become a foundational underpinning when it came time for me to birth my son. My labor progressed exceptionally fast for a first time mother, and with no way of knowing how long or how short my labor was going to be, it would have been easy to attach myself to the incredibly strong sensations I was feeling at hour 2, it would have been easy to begin to wonder if I had the stamina to sustain this for 8, 10, 12 hours. I instead directed my mind to my training – I brought my awareness to my breath and focused on relaxing my body from the head down. 4 hours later I welcomed my child into the world. I am left to wonder now how that might have changed had I invited fear to join me in my birthing time.
The mental realm of the postpartum mother is another obstacle altogether, and it can be riddled with insecurities, confusion, and challenges. Add in the exhaustion and the flood of hormones that takes place with the birth of a human, and those insecurities, confusions, and challenges tend to get amplified. Often times, the way we talk to ourselves after birth can be more harmful than the self-talk we engaged in prior to birth, especially if birth didn’t go according to our plans. I’ve heard a number of moms remark that they felt like they needed a do-over after their birth ended in the hospital rather than the comfort of their own home. It’s thoughts like these that minimize the incredible journey birth takes us through, regardless of how that journey takes shape. Home birth, water birth, C-section, induction… whatever the story is, you not only birthed a human being, but you also birthed a newfound piece of your own identity – you birthed a MOTHER. That is truly something to celebrate!
The structure of the BIRTH TEAM is pivotal in creating the atmosphere around birth – be it constructive or not. The birth team can be one that encourages and empowers a birthing mother, or one that questions a woman’s innate ability to give birth. The birth team has the power to create an optimal atmosphere for a low-stress and supported pregnancy and birth, or it has the power to create an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Deciding who to have on your birth team is a very personal and very important decision. It requires you to look at your values, your beliefs, and your views of how you envision your birth. It requires you to put boundaries in place for who you will and will not allow to partake in the event. It also requires you to do thorough research on providers in your area in order to find the best fit for you. While it is important for ALL mothers to carefully choose their team of providers and supporters, I’ve found that it can be especially important for mothers who aim to have a natural childbirth in a more conventional setting because these women have told me that they had to rely even more on their spouses, providers, doulas, and midwives to be their voice of reason, their advocate, and their cheerleader when presented with options for pain relief and intervention.
Wherever and however you give birth, you will always remember how your team made you feel. Make sure you equip yourself with a team that builds you up.
Taking care of our PHYSICAL STRUCTURE during pregnancy encompasses proper nutrition, consistent movement, and ensuring a well-calibrated (aligned) spine with a balanced pelvis.
Just as a healthy diet promotes our own growth and development, proper nutrition promotes your baby’s growth and development. The basic pillars of health remain the same – eat a good amount of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, whole grains, and lean proteins, and limit processed foods and sugars. A healthy diet should also be partnered with a prenatal multi-vitamin, ideally one that is derived from whole food sources. While it is important to ensure that all the basic vitamins and minerals are accounted for, I am going to give special attention to Folic Acid.
Folic Acid (or Folate when it occurs in its natural form) is a B vitamin (B9) that is essential in helping with proper neural tube formation during pregnancy, meaning that it is important for the proper development of baby’s nervous system through its direct role in brain and spinal cord formation. Folate can be found naturally in green veggies such as spinach and asparagus, citrus foods such as oranges, and in legumes. When taking folic acid supplementation, one thing that has been on the radar for many women is an impairment in their ability to methylate folic acid (and sometimes even naturally occurring folate) due to the presence of the MTHFR gene. What this means is that these women are unable to turn folic acid into a form the body can actually use. Research has suggested that roughly half of the population may have this mutation. In order to ensure that you are getting the most out of your prenatal vitamin, I recommend looking for one that carries B9 in its methylated form – methylfolate. The nervous system is one of the first things to form after conception, so it is important to eat a healthy diet and ensure adequate folate levels prior to conception. Most physicians recommend that women begin taking a prenatal vitamin three months before trying to conceive. ** Speak with your healthcare provider for a personalized assessment of your individual needs.
Consistent movement takes shape as physically training the body for the demands and work of labor. Labor is a marathon, and we have to make sure our bodies can carry us through the challenge. I am not suggesting that this means all pregnant women need to run out and join boot camp or literally train for a marathon, especially if they don’t typically exercises to that level of intensity. What I AM suggesting is that, assuming mom is healthy and has her physician’s approval, daily walks of 20-30 minutes and a few prenatal yoga sessions a week can prove to be incredibly beneficial. And let’s not forget the importance of squats! The type of squat I am referring to is not the standard squat we see in the gym. I am referring to the yoga squat Malasana/Garland Pose. This pose is gentle enough on pregnant women while also being extremely effective in preparing the pelvic floor for delivery and releasing tension in the hips and lower back. (Be sure to add support after 36 weeks pregnant and avoid this position if baby is engaged). This is a helpful video from Yoga with Adriene on the foundations of the pose.
Ensuring a well-calibrated spine and a balanced pelvis is a critical component of a well-structured birth plan for optimal birth outcomes, but it can often be the most overlooked. Dystocia (difficult labor) can be caused by many factors, including poor uterine function and baby malposition. Many cases of dystocia have a common underlying factor – sacral misalignment and ligamentous tension. As the sacrum shifts into a rotational misalignment, it can result in tightening and torsion of the utero-sacral ligaments, contributing to increased tension in the pelvis, which can then impact labor progression and baby positioning. Prenatal chiropractic care as delivered at Calibration Chiropractic, specifically the Webster Technique, works to reduce sacral misalignment and SI joint dysfunction in order to normalize physiology and restore normal balance of the mother’s pelvis. *** Visit the ICPA website to find a Webster Certified chiropractor near you.
Structure your life with people and things that support you and your values.
Dr. Jordan Adams
This observation of human physiology has been called the FEAR – TENSION – PAIN cycle.
Heightened anxiety levels prior to and/or during labor lead to fear, fear creates aberrant and unnecessary muscle tension, and that tension then interferes with and slows down the natural processes of labor because the body can’t open the way it is design to. As the body resists labor it experiences pain, and the pain then feeds and perpetuates the fear and anxiety that was initially felt. It becomes a vicious cycle that keeps moms ensnared in the myth that childbirth is always scary and horribly painful.
This cycle encourages the body to release copious amounts of ADRENALINE into the bloodstream. Adrenaline is our primary fight-or-flight hormone, which means that it preps the body for danger in order to escape a situation. The problem with this is that a mom in labor can’t escape labor. She needs labor to unfold, but the body is trying everything it can to prevent that from happening… it shunts blood and oxygen away from the uterus, it increases breath rate, it creates erratic contractions, and it makes for a longer labor. Aside from the physical impact adrenaline can have on the birth experience, it has also been shown to decrease the release of other necessary hormones, hormones that are designed to have a positive impact on birth (more on that later).
What many people don’t realize is that it’s not as simple as how we approach birth once we first start feeling contractions. The fear-tension-pain cycle often begins before we even conceive. It begins with our deeply held beliefs and attitudes around birth. It begins with outside, additional stressful events in life. It begins with our lifestyle and how we manage and adapt to our stress.
Changing the Cycle
Achieving a deeper appreciation and open acceptance for the beautiful and natural process that childbirth is takes months of dedicated training and sometimes even a hard look at our life. Birth isn’t so much about getting something OUT is it is about going INward and coming HOME to ourself. It’s about looking at our fears and our stresses, facing them head on, and reclaiming our strength so that we can walk the pregnancy and birth journey with ease and confidence, knowing that we can find comfort in not only our team, but also in ourselves.
A fearless mind = a body at ease
A body at ease = a body in comfort
A body in comfort = a fearless mind
When we create for ourselves a state of fearlessness, we create a cycle of fearless-ease-comfort. Reduced anxiety levels and increased confidence decrease the likelihood of aberrant muscle tension, less tension then frees up the body to open as it is naturally designed to, and a body that is no longer resisting the process of opening experiences less “pain” in the traditional sense of the word, but instead something more akin to intense sensations that the birthing mom is well-equipped to cope with.
A system that is not in fight-or-flight releases OXYTOCIN and ENDORPHINS into the bloodstream. Oxytocin, often called the “love hormone”, works for us rather than against us in labor. It creates strong, powerful contractions that help to dilate the cervix, it helps move the baby through the birth canal, and it helps decrease bleeding at the site of the placenta. Endorphins are our natural opioids; they help the body cope with and manage pain. What’s amazing about endorphins is that in a natural, unmedicated birth the body continues to release more and more endorphins as labor progresses so that the mom can deal with the intensity of labor. Endorphin levels actually have one of the biggest influence on pain levels during labor, but it’s impossible to have high adrenaline and high endorphins – it’s one or the other. We have the power to choose which hormones we want flooding our body, and it starts in the mind.
How to do it
Training the mind can take place anywhere, anytime, and in any situation. It involves consistently practicing bringing yourself into a state of deep relaxation, focusing on the breath, acknowledging (rather than attaching to) limiting beliefs or fears, and fostering an inner trust and knowing in the body. It’s a practice in meditation and self affirmation.
Here are some tools you can explore and look into in order to help you flip the cycle:
- Prenatal Yoga
- Breath Training
- Lamaze Classes
- Bradley Method
- Chiropractic Care
- Birth Affirmations
** Part of training the mind is acknowledging that sometimes things happen and birth may not go according to plan, and that is OKAY! We have to liberate ourselves from being so tied up in our birth plan that it becomes a binding contract in our mind of how we need it to go to feel okay. It’s easy to feel disappointment when you have worked so hard for the “perfect birth” but then had to change gears for the safety of you and/or your child. It’s easy in those cases to feel like maybe you didn’t try hard enough, or maybe you messed up along the way, but none of that is true. There are some things we have no control over and every birth has it’s own story.
Structure your life with people and things that support you and your values.
Dr. Jordan Adams
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