Our Mammalian Roots
“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 the activity of the brain of the intellect, that is of the neocortex. ¨¨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’.”
~Michel Odent, MD, The Scientification of Love
According to Michel Odent, the limbic system or the mammalian brain which we share with all other mammals, is the most active part of the brain during uninterrupted birth. The limbic system acts like an endocrine gland as it releases oxytocin, endorphins, prolactin and adrenaline to support mom in birthing her baby.
Odent goes on to say that inhibitions during the birth process (and other sexual processes) originate in the neocortex, the newer part of the brain that is related to rational thought and highly developed in humans. Therefore, minimizing neocortical activity in a birthing mother may be an important aspect of creating optimal birthing conditions.
Through this lens, what can we learn from the way that other mammals birth their young?
Lets look at the environmental factors that can stimulate the neocortex:
A feeling of being observed (by people or machines)¨
Will you have the ability to move and express yourself freely as you birth your baby?
If you are in the hospital, what kind of monitoring will be expected?
Feeling unsafe or insecure (emotionally or physically)
Do you feel respected and safe with your caregiver(s)?
Who do you want to be present at your birth?
Are they in alignment with the way you choose to birth your baby?
Will they support you in your decisions?
Anything that triggers adrenaline hormones before they are needed.
(Adrenaline naturally comes in at the end of labor once mom is fully open and ready to push. )
Any of these factors could be present in a birth environment. Of course, they won’t effect all mamas in the same way and some won’t even notice, but for those who might like a little support inviting in her Primal Self or for individuals deeply affected by their environment in general, these little details could make a big difference.
“Imagine this. Your cat is pregnant, due to give birth around the same time as you are. You have your bags packed for hospital, and are awaiting the first signs of labour with excitement and a little nervousness.
Meanwhile your cat has been hunting for an out-of-the way place \’ your socks drawer or laundry basket \’ where she is unlikely to be disturbed. When you notice, you open the wardrobe door, but she moves again. Intrigued, you notice that your observation, even your presence, seems to disturb the whole process. And, wish as you might to get a glimpse into the mysteries of birth before it is your turn, you wake up the next morning to find her washing her four newborn kittens in the linen cupboard.”
~Sarah J. Buckley, MD, “Pain in Labour: Your Hormones are your Helpers”
Although birth will be like nothing else you have experienced, what life experience can you draw upon to prepare you for this amazing journey?
Do you have practices that support you in loosening your rational brain and flowing more freely?
Do you meditate, dance, sing, chant or do yoga? How can these practices be incorporated into your birth experience?
How will you call upon a visceral trust in your ability to birth your baby?
Odent, M. (1999) . The Scientification of Love. London, UK: Free Association Books Limited.
Buckley, Dr. Sarah J., 2005, “Pain In Labour: Your Hormones are Your Helpers.”
Accessed September 2011