By Carol Gray
posted with author's permission
read more from Gray at: CarolGray.com
First a word or two about birth physiology: Labor is almost universally uncomfortable for mothers, and often painful for babies. One of the ways we cope with pain is to produce beta-endorphin. Beta-endorphin is an opiate-like brain chemical - the same one responsible for the so-called "runner’s high." It reduces pain and increases good feelings.
In a typical labor, pain increases over time. As the pain increases, the production of beta-endorphin also increases. Mothers and babies both produce beta-endorphin. The beta-endorphin produced by mother also passes on to baby through the placenta.
At the moment of birth, the pain of labor suddenly and dramatically decreases for the mother. Mothers and babies are flooded with endorphins that, with little to no pain, cause euphoria.
We know that endorphins create a state of dependence. After a medically undisturbed birth mom and baby will repeatedly seek to recreate that initial high of birth euphoria with close skin to skin contact. We know that babies need this contact to survive and develop normally.
Sometimes babies are hurt in the birth process. It’s obvious when they come out with swelling, bruises or broken bones. Sometimes they appear frightened or shocked. In that moment they are supposed to rely on an extra boost of endorphins from their mothers.
The Truth: Mothers who have epidurals typically experience little to no pain in their labors. If mothers experience little to no pain, they produce little to no beta-endorphin. When mothers produce little to no beta-endorphin, their babies have more painful births. This pain could be extreme. This pain can interfere with bonding. There is no state of euphoria for mom or baby. We have no idea what the lifetime effects of this could be.
Carol Gray, Midwife, LMT, practices and teaches Craniosacral Therapy for infants and mamas. She also attends home births in Portland, Oregon.
For information on the subject of infant pain in labor and birth, and gentle birth, see:
Birth As We Know It [video]
Epidurals: Risks and Concerns for Mother and Baby - Dr. Buckley
Birth and Breastfeeding
The Scientification of Love
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
Gentle Birth Choices
Infant Pain Impacts Adult Sensitivity [article]
Birth From Baby's Perspective [article]