Waiting for your baby to be born can be one of the most excruciating waiting periods of your life! When you are given a ‘due date,’ just by the very name of it, it feels as if you should have had your baby by or on that date! But, that is not how it works, nor what is best for your baby.
The “due date” actually falls within a 5-week time period that signifies a full-term baby. Anywhere between 37 – 42 weeks is considered a normal and healthy gestation for a baby’s birth when the labor happens spontaneously. I tend to give women a “due month” rather than a due date just for this very reason and psychologically it is much easier to wrap your mind around a range of time when the baby will be born.
We are still unclear about what exactly triggers spontaneous (or physiologic) labor, but research is supporting the unique and synergistic process between baby and mother. There is a complex hormonal interplay between the baby and mother in the days and weeks leading up to birth. Mother and baby readiness for labor is precisely aligned at the time of spontaneous labor, which optimizes labor efficiency and mother-baby transitions after birth. Waiting for your baby’s birth to happen on its own then is important to optimize the health of both the mother and the baby.
The hormonal systems of the baby and mother interact from pregnancy throughout labor and birth, breastfeeding, and mother-baby attachment. The onset of spontaneous labor is thought to be determined essentially by the baby’s maturity via cortisol production and coordinated with the mother’s readiness for labor via estrogen production, oxytocin and prostaglandin receptor development and oxytocin release.
Natural Labor & Delivery Benefits
Birth that happens when the baby and mother’s body is ready and without medical intervention has been shown to have the following benefits:
- Less postpartum pain
- Reduced likelihood of post-natal depression
- Quicker physical recovery
- An easier breastfeeding experience
- Effective respiratory transition for the baby
- More effective gut colonization of beneficial bacteria reducing allergies in the baby
- Enhanced bonding to baby
- A calmer, more settled baby (Romano & Lothian, 2008)
- Reduction in trauma or need for suturing after the birth (Albers, Sedler, Bedrick, Teaf & Peralta 2006)
- Triggers production of proteins in a newborn brain that may improve brain development (Dominguez-Bello, et al 2010)
Complications of Unnecessary Inductions
Intervening in a normal physiologic birth process where there are no complications, increases the risk of complications for the mother and baby. This is called a ‘cascade of intervention.” Often when one intervention happens it creates hormonal disruptions that then necessitate another intervention to compensate. For example, there is a reduction in the mother’s oxytocin that generally follows after a mother gets epidural anesthesia which may lead to the use of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to compensate. Prolonged use of synthetic oxytocin may desensitize the oxytocin receptor system and increase a risk of postpartum hemorrhage.
Lamaze International published six evidence-based care practices that promote natural spontaneous (physiologic) birth:
- Avoiding medically unnecessary induction of labor
- Allowing freedom of movement for the laboring woman
- Providing continuous labor support
- Avoiding routine interventions and restrictions
- Encouraging spontaneous pushing in non-supine (not lying down) positions
- Keeping mothers and babies together after birth without restrictions on breastfeeding
So while waiting for that little bundle of joy to arrive may try your patience – remember it is the baby that decides when his/her BIRTH day will be! What could be cooler than that?
Marti Churchill, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She has served as a midwife for twenty-six years and as a lactation consultant for ten years.