A high degree of trust and surrender are required of a birthing mother for birth to proceed undisturbed or without external intervention as it has done for aeons. There is an infinite array of natural tools for facilitating a relatively calm and smooth birth by managing anxiety, pain and discomfort. These are often used organically in combination with one another by mothers dedicated to undisturbed birth.
Most of these approaches require extrinsic support of the mother such as the presence of birth support persons, massage, acupressure, pelvic manoeuvres, the availability of a bath, shower or birth pool, aromatherapy, and so forth. And most, singly or in combination, only go so far in enhancing the primal zone where the cocktail of ecstatic birth hormones works at its most effective and a woman can fully harness her innate birthing power.
In order to promote the trance of labour where only the present moment is relevant, fear can take a back seat and the birthing mother can access her powerful inner lioness, the combination of breath, vocalisation and instinctual movement comes up trumps in my experience.
Together they are known to dampen or transmute pain. These simple tools encourage a birthing woman to remain present in her body and meet the intensity of birth rather than shying away from it and numbing out or dissociating. Along with a great deal of anecdotal evidence, there is science to back up the impact of these three self-initiated tools for use by women in undisturbed birth.
The power of breath has been explored in depth by ancient yogis and modern athletes alike. Deep breathing ensures optimal oxygenation of tissues and a greater likelihood of sustaining energy levels through birth. The exhale phase of breathing is known to slow our heart rate and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Thus, a pattern of extended exhaling will have an overall effect of relaxing a birthing mother. Additionally, nostril as opposed to mouth breathing is known to increase nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream leading to tissue engorgement and more supple pelvic tissues as well an altered state of consciousness. Following one’s rhythmic breath in and out of the body is a mindfulness practice in itself and promotes present time awareness. This again leaves less room for fear and anxiety to emerge in the birth bubble.
Vocalisation of any kind also produces a parasympathetic nervous system response and promotes further relaxation. Relaxing the lips, jaw and larynx is said to have a parallel effect on the vaginal opening, pelvis and cervix respectively. Voice comes into play naturally to dampen pain such as when we cry out on injuring ourselves. Sound has also been found to amplify pleasurable or neutral sensations in the body. This aspect of using voice in labour and birth is often the most challenging for women. Many are inhibited in expressing themselves through their voices in general, let alone through the more primal sounds of birth. These birth sounds are often equated in our grin-and-bear-it culture with being “out of control” or “uncivilised” – notions that have no place in undisturbed birth! Women labouring fully in the primal zone will instinctively produce low-pitched moans or loud roars without apology as birth is imminent and their baby emerges.
Instinctual movement requires a deep body connection and intricate awareness in order to move in a way that brings comfort and pleasure. This again keeps a birthing mother in the present moment and creates a felt sense of confidence in being able to manoeuvre her own body to provide relief. If a woman is aware of an internal current or energy flow, she would not need to consciously move her body but essentially allow the energy to move her.
The combination of these three approaches has been found by women to be extraordinarily powerful in birth.
All of these can be accessed spontaneously and in the moment with no prescribed way of being. In essence, the birthing mother literally connects with the power that is already present within her. No external input is necessary. The Tantric combination of breath, vocalisation and instinctive movement allows for this to occur through deep relaxation, transmutation of discomfort and pain, focussed awareness and an altered state of consciousness. In this primal state, endorphins, oxytocin and other birth-friendly neurotransmitters flow at their peak and further add to the positive effect.
However, for a woman to call on these tools as second nature often requires some level of unlearning old ways of being with her body and a kind of re-wiring of her nervous system. It would take hushing the voices of self-doubt, self-judgement and self-consciousness. And it would require quietening an over-thinking mind so that she can fully immerse in body sensation. This would then serve as a mindfulness practice, and so the process of birth becomes a kind of meditation.
In the words of one of many mothers who have shared their expansive and transformational birthing experience using this combination of birthing tools:
“The simplicity and freedom of my breath, voice and movement took me to uncharted realms during the birth of my second baby, a VBAC. I had a sense of being larger than my body and fully supported as a vessel for the new life I was birthing. And yet I felt more grounded and in my body than ever before.
The whole experience was intense but I would not say painful. Focussing constantly on slow deep breathing with my eyes mostly closed and feeling free to make sounds and movements to meet the intense sensations in my body, I felt like a powerful and earthy birthing goddess! Time disappeared and I could feel the unwavering trust and support of my birth team without much need to communicate in words.
The experience was the complete opposite of my first labour which was dominanted by anxiety and feelings of being out of control. At one point I felt unexpected waves of pleasure wash through my whole body as I moved slowly in the birth pool.
Birth I can truly say is my new superpower as a Woman and Mother! Thank you for offering this potent alternative to preparing for birth.”
If you are pregnant and would like to engage in unique birth education to connect more deeply to your birthing power, read more here about the upcoming Primal Mama: embodied birth education series or call 0402 039 341 with your queries.
Porges, Stephen W (2011) The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication & Self-regulation
Nisha Gill is the founder of Feminine Instincts ~ Melbourne Holistic Wellbeing & Birth Services. She works holistically in the fields of childbirth education, bodywork, counselling, Somatic Experiencing® (body-centered trauma therapy), pre- & post-natal yoga and supporting women in birth as a doula.