on the hormones of love and birth
After re-watching ‘The business of being born’ the other day I felt inspired by Michel Odent’s comments on the role of love hormones in maternal bonding. I remembered that on my shelf I have a copy of his book, ‘The Scientification of Love’ and set about reading it with much gusto- often calling out to the ever-understanding and patient Dan, ‘whoa man, you should hear this!’. It reminded me of the very simple ingredients and low-key basic necessities of the birthing woman that facilitate a physiological labour, birth, breastfeeding, bonding and parenting experience. Every woman, midwife, doctor and doula should heed the words in this book – they will enlighten you as to how and why birth works given the right carers and setting. The simplicity and logic of his arguments are astounding and so refreshing in a world where birth is portrayed as complex, dangerous and unpredictable.
To give you just a taste I have included a small excerpt from ‘The scientification of love’ which was a timely reminder of the delicate and basic needs of a birthing woman and the midwives role in protecting these needs.
‘To give birth a woman needs to release a certain cocktail of hormones... The crucial thing is to realise that they all originate in the same gland- the brain. Today the traditional perceived separation between the nervous system and the endocrine system is obsolete. There is only one network and the brain is also an endocrine gland. But it is not the whole brain which is active as an endocrine gland, only its deepest part. We might say that when a woman is in labour the most active part of her body is her primitive brain- those very old structures of the brain (the hypothalamus, pituitary gland etc) that we share with all other mammals. Modern scientific language can also explain that when there are inhibitions during the birth process (or any sexual experience) they originate in that other brain, the new brain, the part of the brain which is so highly developed among humans- the neocortex.
Physiologists might also interpret a phenomenon which is familiar to midwives and some mothers- or at least to those who have had the experience of unmanaged and un-medicated birth. During the birth process there is a period when the mother behaves as if she were ‘on another planet’, cutting herself off from our everyday world and going on a sort of inner trip. This change in her level of consciousness can be interpreted as a reduction in neocortical activity. Birth attendants who understand this essential aspect of the physiology of labour and delivery would not make the mistake of trying to ‘bring her back to her senses’. They would readily appreciate that any neocortical stimulation in general and any stimulation of the intellect in particular, can interfere with the process of labour. From a practical point of view, it is useful to review the well-known factors which can stimulate the human neocortex: language, particularly rational language is one such factor’
‘when considering the birth process from the perspective of physiologists, it is clear that a labouring woman needs to first feel secure and that a midwife is originally a protector, a mother-figure, the mother being the prototype of the sort of person with whom one feels secure’ p.28-31
I will be speaking at the Capers conference in Brisbane in May 2011 and so will Michel Odent ; I can’t wait to hear what he has to say and feel privileged to be sharing a podium with the likes of him. On that note... I highly recommend this book and am going to read the rest of it right now... and I recommend you do the same.
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