Early in my doula career, I remember working with a family who knew they wanted a doula to support them through their pregnancy and birth. This particular mother had a previous birth that she felt didn’t go well and felt like she was pressured into unnecessary interventions. She was nervous about going back to the same hospital and the possibility of her past doctor being “on call” again. Her plan for this birth was going to be to labor at home for as long as possible and then head to the hospital for the birth when contractions were strong and close together.
It was a peaceful spring morning and I joined this mother as her contractions were coming regularly and gaining in intensity. She and her husband made the decision that it was time to head to the hospital. It was easy to see that her contractions were only a few minutes apart and very strong. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, her contractions went from 2-3 minutes apart to 6+ minutes apart. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! It was like her labor was slowing down and going into reverse! Eventually, she was able to get settled into her comfortable routine and contractions picked up, but it took a lot longer than I expected!
Hormones play a big part in our lives, and especially during labor and birth. Doulas can help our clients learn more about their bodies and how labor hormones will impact their labor process. While there are many hormones that are involved with pregnancy and labor, I like to talk about four specifically.
Oxytocin is responsible for labor contractions and is often referred to as the “love” hormone. Oxytocin can cause feelings of calmness and euphoria, even in labor. It plays a major part in helping labor progress smoothly. This hormone is also crucial for helping new parents’ bond with their baby!
Melatonin is released during times of calm and typically in the dark. (Have you ever wondered why labor often starts in the middle of the night? Melatonin is at work!) Melatonin boosts oxytocin.
I love reminding families that our bodies are designed with ways of coping with intensity of contractions by releasing endorphins. These are powerful natural pain relievers and stress relievers!
Adrenaline is the one hormone we want to limit during the first stage of labor. This causes the body to enter into a “fight or flight” stress response state which is not ideal in labor. It can increase heart rates and breathing rates. Adrenaline can be useful for the second stage of labor, pushing.
Talking about the impact of hormones in labor is a topic I cover during all prenatal appointments and childbirth classes I teach. One activity I have partners do is a personalized t-chart with the intent of thinking about promoting labor progress and limiting adrenaline. This can then be used to create a birth plan or shared with other people on their birth team. Here is a sample list from a recent client:
|Oxytocin, Endorphins, Melatonin||Adrenaline|
|Low Lighting at home and hospital
Flameless tea lights
Wearing my own clothing
Listening to my playlist
Bouncing on birth ball
Laboring at home
Having Buster (dog) close by
Spending time in the birth tub
Slow dancing together
Being about to move in labor and not confined to a bed
Hot tea, snacks, and water bottle in basket on counter
Lots of medical people in the room watching
Family in the waiting room
Partner being on phone/social media
Getting the IV
Being told to stay in bed
Not being a part of decisions
After our clients make this list, we can talk about our role as doulas in helping with those things that are going to promote labor progress. Maybe we can get the tea lights set up and help get the tub ready at home or birth location. Maybe we could encourage using a birth ball at the birth location instead of being in the bed.
This type of activity also gives support partners lots of ideas of what their role in labor could be too. They can help keep the lighting low and act as a “bouncer” to keep family and visitors out of the laboring space. They can do the slow dancing and be a part of labor positions. They can ask medical staff to explain what they would like to do and allow time for discussions.
Many families have expressed that this simple activity helped them understand more about how amazing their bodies are and also relieved that their body has built-in ways to help them through labor. If you would like to learn more about the fascinating topic of labor hormones, check out the educational links below.
- National Partnership Pathway to Healthy Birth Booklet: https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/health-care/maternity/pathway-to-a-healthy-birth-booklet.pdf
- Hormones In Labour: Oxytocin And The Others – How They Work: https://www.nct.org.uk/labour-birth/your-guide-labour/hormones-labour-oxytocin-and-others-how-they-work
- Executive Summary of Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4720867/
- Dr. Sarah Buckley: https://sarahbuckley.com/
CLD, CPD, CNPE, Faculty
Katie Nyberg has served hundreds of mothers, partners, and families through her role as a birth doula, postpartum doula, and childbirth educator since 2010. She believes that our society is not supporting new mothers enough and has made it her mission to help provide the missing care for women during their childbearing years. Katie has been a part of CAPPA since 2015. She is excited to combine her passions for teaching and for supporting new mothers through her role as Postpartum Doula Trainer. Katie is a frequent speaker for mothers, families, and health care providers in Iowa. She has been featured in a doula magazine, Parents Magazine, and on her local television station.