Hypnobirthing mini-series – how the birthing body works

Exactly what happens to your body during labour? Learn why your body is so amazing, and why staying calm can help you enjoy an easier (even pain-free) birth.

In part one of our hypnobirthing mini-series by Susanne Grant, we explored the mind vs body connection, and how this can influence your birth. In part two we look at how the birthing body works.

And in particular, why a large number of hypnobirthing mums report that their labour was pain-free, while most of us are told all our lives that birth equals pain.

How your uterus works

The uterus is an amazing organ. As Ina May Gaskin (internationally known midwife) says: “There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ they would brag about it. So should we”.

Your uterus is responsible for the growth and birth of your baby, and is made of layers of muscle tissue. During pregnancy, the horizontal layer (highly concentrated at the bottom) keeps your baby in, and is normally referred to as the ‘cervix’.

The vertical muscle layer (highly concentrated at the top) meanwhile, is relaxed, making it possible for your baby to grow throughout gestation.

During labour these two functions switch, thanks to the release of the hormone oxytocin. This means that the vertical layers will start drawing upwards in order for your cervix to thin and open, so your baby can move down the birth path.

If you are tense your body will fight labour

If you are tense or scared during labour, your body will try to prevent your baby from being born. You may experience tension or pain as your body keeps trying to pull the muscles up, while the horizontal muscles are staying tight.

On the other hand, when you are feeling comfortable and relaxed, the sets of muscles will work together brilliantly like a wave, making birth more comfortable and smooth.

If you’re scared of birth or feel tense, you can trigger the release of adrenaline during labour. Adrenaline is a powerful hormone that helps our body respond to emergency situations. It increases your heart and breathing rate, and triggers the freeze-flight-fight response.

In labour adrenaline is not a mum’s best friend, as it the resulting physical response will divert blood away from your uterus to your arms and legs (so you can run away or fight the upcoming ‘danger’)

Focus on your breathing

What is the first thing you say to someone who is having a panic attack? Yes: “breathe”! A birthing mother should be as relaxed as possible, stay calm and focus on her breathing.

Breathing will help to lower any feelings of stress and release wonderful endorphins – your body’s equivalent of the artificial morphine. Endorphins are your freely available pain relief, so the more you can relax during labour, the more in control and comfortable you will be.

The hormone oxytocin is responsible for the surges you get in labour. It’s released in our everyday life on many occasions (such as when we make love) and it males labour more efficient.

Your birthing body is amazing

Your body is amazing – it’s designed to birth your baby calmly and safely. And on most occasions it does.

But there’s a great deal you can do to help it. If you stay calm and relaxed, your body will release more oxytocin, which makes labour more efficient, and more endorphins, which will help to make birth more comfortable.

Hypnobirthing helps your body naturally do what it does best by teaching you how to work with it rather than against it. It helps you to trust your body and your instinct, and lets your baby lead the way.

Susanne is a hypnobirthing mother and owner of Grant Method of Birthing where she supports women to achieve a calm and gentle birth experience.