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March 10, 2010

In the last post we talked about the function of the brain during birth. We looked into the importance of calming the activity of the neocortex (or the “brainy brain” as we called it) so that the allocortex (or the “primal brain”) could effectively release the hormones (primarily oxytocin) needed for labor. We also talked about how adrenaline prevents the production of oxytocin.

One thing that stimulates our brainy brain is feeling like we’re being observed. For example, think about an animal in the wild. When the animal feels like it is being watched its body produces adrenaline, allowing it to be alert and ready to fight or flee at a moment’s notice. Many of us have experienced this rush of adrenaline while being observed. Whether our boss is watching us perform a task or we are speaking in public, there is a certain amount of stress that comes along with it.

A laboring woman needs privacy. A woman can feel perfectly secure and maintain her sense of privacy with people who she feels are actively participating in helping her during labor but those same people could cause stress if she perceives them as “observers”. Is there a family member who is attending the birth “just to watch”? Will there be medical students or unnecessary personnel present?

Another interesting fact is that the “observer” doesn’t even have to be direct human interaction to have this negative effect. Is there a video camera set up in the corner? Is continuous electronic fetal monitoring being used? Are the parents getting texts every five minutes from friends or family checking on the mom’s progress?

Parents should decide before birth who and what they want in their room. They should go through the list and define what role each person has. Even if that role is to “witness the birth”, assigning that person with a “role” can prevent the laboring woman from perceiving them as an observer. She could also talk with her care provider about specific things that can be done to limit the feeling of being watched and to maintain privacy.

Another thing to consider, that sort of goes along the same lines, is avoiding bright lights. Not only does dimming the lights aid in obtaining a feeling of privacy but it also limits visual stimulation. When a woman is in active labor she isn’t going to be able to watch TV (even if it were just Baby Einstein videos) or anything else that would visually stimulate her. Sensory perception is a job of the brainy brain and we want to keep that switched off.

Again, this is something we have all experienced. When we are preparing to go to sleep and want to slow down the chatter of our minds, do we open up the blinds and turn on all the lights? Of course not, we do just the opposite. Women in labor tend to cover their faces with their hands or bury themselves into their partner’s shoulder- shielding themselves from light and limiting the visual stimulation that they are experiencing.

There are many things that can be done to help provide a sense of privacy. Of course dimming the lights and drawing the blinds will help a laboring woman feel secure. She can also use a sleep mask, rice sock or towel to cover her eyes. The TV should be off and anything that is visually stimulating should be removed.

In our next post we will discuss another area that the brainy brain controls- language. We will explore what kind of language is helpful and what kind is detrimental to labor. See you then!

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