Trust your body. Have you heard this said before about birth and caring for your baby? what do we mean we we say to women to ‘trust your body’? As mothers and women how can we do this?
Well we need to start by looking at why we do not trust our bodies and then what we can do to rebuild that trust with balance and belief and then use this to help and support others.
As pregnant women we are bombarded with information, from friends, family, health professionals and the media. There are more books on parenting thanwe could ever read in a whole life time. How can we possible know what is the right thing for us to do when it comes to pregnancy, birth and beyond?
The answer simply is, learn to trust your body. But how?
Women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, our bodies are made to give birth and also provide for our babies once they are here. So why do we seem to have such difficulties? Because we have forgotten that our bodies and our babies give us signs to follow that help us along the journey. What signs?
Well in pregnancy simple things like feeling tired or hungry are our body’s way of telling us that we need to rest and eat. However we all live such busy lives and our tendency can be to ignore our bodies signs and ‘try and carry on’, feeling we must accomplish every task on the list and often at the detriment of ourselves. What other signs does our body give us that we can learn to listen to?
As women we tend to be very aware of our bodies and its cycles and often know when we feel something isn’t quiet right. Using and enhancing this skill both in pregnancy, birth and beyond is often of great benefit and can alert us to things that may be problematic. (I know personally I had felt ‘not right’ for a few days before I was finally diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.) This sense can often be down played by some healthcare professional’s but it is important for everyone to listen if a woman is telling you something isn’t right, whether that be in pregnancy, during birth or after, especially if it is feeding related. (So many mothers I see complain that breastfeeding is just not feeling right despite being told all is ok and it turns out to be a tongue tie or the like!)
The more a woman listens to and reads the signs that her body is showing her the more she will understand her journey and the more she will be able to embrace that journey.
Lets take birth for instance. The journey of birth is governed by hormones all working in harmony to bring life into the world. The word hormone comes from the greek meaning ‘messengers’. These hormones do just that send messages that can help us in the stages of labour. In the latent stage (about 0-3 cm dilated) oxytocin flows, this ‘love’ hormone is instinctive, it stimulates certain muscles to contract and may cause surges of energy and a ‘nesting instinct’. Women can look for these signs (such as braxton hicks) as indications that labour may be near enabling her to prepare and focus on the journey ahead. During the later stages of birth other hormones come into play such as beta-endorphins which are opiates or natural pain killers.
The balance of hormones changes again when the cervix reaches full dilation. During this phase called the ‘transition’ there may be a rise in adrenaline to provide the energy needed for pushing. The effect on the woman of adrenaline can mean she feels shivery or shaky, nauseous, physically and emotionally exhausted. It is often at this stage that women will say they cant go on, or can no longer cope and will often reach out for support and reassurance. These again are signs that need to be listened to. The feelings and sensations she is experiencing shows that labour is near its end. Helping a women to understand and read those signs while providing reassurance and encouragement will help her carry on and reach her end goal- the birth of her baby. Of course other signs in labour also need to be listened to such as the desire to remain active and up-right. Allowing a woman to respond to what her body needs will help the progression of the baby through the pelvis. It allows her body to open up more fully creating more room for her baby to move and thus reducing pain. It allows better blood flow to the baby and the placenta and also allows for even pressure and expansion of the perineum.
After birth other hormones will then respond including prolactin which turns on the ‘motherly’ instinct. Responding to this rush in her body of prolactin along with oxytocin will cause a women to hold her baby skin to skin and put her baby to her breast thus helping build a loving bond and facilitating feeding. Again if these signs are missed or babies are taken and washed or weighed and wrapped then it can interfere with the natural flood of hormones.
What happens when these signs are miss read or what affect can other influences have on these signs?
Lets think about oxytocin, this is the same hormone that is involved in love making. What may interfere with being able to trust your body when oxytocin is following? Well what would hamper you during sex? Bright glaring lights, lots of people ebbing round, sense of being observed, rushed and others expectations. Yet this is often the environment women are asked to give birth in. Also noise and distractions, things that divert focus such as monitoring machines or continual examinations can impede the flow of oxytocin. This would also hamper the follow of beta-endorphins that give natural pain relief and this can lead the way to too much adrenaline. When adrenaline is too much and control is lost the effect can be the dampening of the oxytocin and thus the prolonging of labour.
What may cause a women to be overcome by adrenaline? We know that adrenaline is part of the fight or flight response so fear and dread plus anxiety can easily take hold. Shock, fear, loss of control, not understanding the situation or poor care could cause a woman to panic and instead of trusting herself to birth her baby she may feel it is ‘out of her hands’ and she ‘must do as she is told’ rather than her let her body lead the way.
Of course sometimes things may not go to plan. Babies are born early, or there are concerns about the baby and/or mothers health and it maybe that a baby is born via Caesarean section. However as far as possible the environment and care of the woman should be in such as way that it enables her to have control, making informed choices in a calm and dignified way that still allows her to work in harmony with her own body and allows the hormones to work their magic. Never should a women feel she has failed or that her body has let her down.
What about after birth?
Again the body can give signs that we can follow. Women tend to bleed following birth for up to about six weeks again this is a sign of the need to rest and recuperate and allow the body to recover from nine months of growing and nourishing a baby. It gives time for iron levels to recover and also for feeding and bonding to be established.
When it comes to feeding the human body is amazing. The breasts provide milk that is everything an infant needs to grow and thrive, but again we must listen to the body’s signs (babies as well). Allowing baby to feed whenever needed but also feeding baby when her body signals the need will keep a good supply of milk. Rest, feeling safe, calm and secure plus adequate food and fluids also allow for the body to maintain a good supply and the hormones to flow.
A woman can trust her body to nurture her baby and to achieve her goals with good support and information. However things can undermine this trust. Comments by others or the media on what a baby should or should not be doing can confuse and breed distrust. Heres a few :
‘don’t keep picking up your baby you will spoil him’
‘he’s not feeding again is he?”
‘maybe your milk isn’t enough for him’
‘breastfeeding always hurts you just have to put up with it’
‘don’t feed your baby to sleep he will never go to sleep alone’
‘why isn’t your baby sleeping through the night yet?’
‘its ok everyone gives bottles these days, breastfeeding is just too hard’
When we look at these and other things women may hear even though well intentioned what common thread do we see? That her body isn’t enough to care and provide for her baby. That message makes a woman distrust herself and her abilities and so lose the trust that she needs to embrace motherhood.
So what does it mean to”trust your body’?
That as women we learn to let our bodies tell us what it needs whether that be sleep, rest, food or comfort. It means we trust in the way nature intended it to work and work in harmony with it not fighting its natural rhythms but helping it work as it should. It means we believe in its abilities to be all that our babies need whether that be food or comfort. It also means that we trust in OUR abilities and not others to make us doubt what we feel is right. You know your baby and your baby knows you. So yes go pick up your baby!
Of course I am not saying that things will all magically be ok if women trust themselves. At times things do go beyond our control and often when support and accurate information isn’t available this can add to the difficulties. However, if we empower ourselves and other women, provide the correct information and support, and help them to believe in themselves and trust their wonderful amazing bodies then we can make the journey of pregnancy, birth and motherhood less bumpy and hopefully a lot happier along the way.
Next: Listening to your baby.