You have probably refused all drugs and over-the-counter medications during your pregnancy so why during the critical time of labour and birth take opiates (narcotics) induction agents and other controlled drugs?

Very few drugs are licensed to be given to babies under 3 months old, yet at the moment of birth many subject their babies to narcotics and other drugs which interfere with bonding and breathing.  These drugs often prevent a baby utilising its instincts to initiate breastfeeding.

A mother who has had pethidine (similar to morphine and heroin) often feels disconnected emotionally from her baby just as she is being born, at the beginning of her life in a totally new environment.  Pethidine may not provide adequate pain relief for some women.  Nausea and vomiting are common- a medication may be mixed with the pethidine to help reduce these effects.

Some women report feeling drowsy and confused.  The effects pethidine has on perception may make the surges difficult to deal with.  Other potential side effects for the woman in labour include difficulty passing urine, dry mouth, hallucinations, respiratory depression, low blood pressure and allergic reaction .

Oxytocin and its starring role

Drugs given during labour interfere with the normal release of OXYTOCIN –the “hormone of love”. This is the hormone that binds us to our baby and is produced in order that mothers “fall in love” with their babies and protect them. Oxytocin is involved with lovemaking, fertility, contractions during labour and birth, and the release of milk in breastfeeding. It helps us feel good, and it triggers nurturing feelings and behaviours.

At birth the amount of Oxytocin released far exceeds the amount produced by a woman at any other time in her life.

Imagine that feeling of wellbeing magnified 10 times and you get close to the powerful emotions a mother feels as she greats her new-born.  This is natural labour, the way Nature intended it.

What is the role of endorphins during labour and birth?

Endorphins are calming and pain-relieving hormones that give us our ‘feel-good’ factor. The level of this natural morphine-like substance may rise toward the end of pregnancy, and then rises steadily and steeply during unmedicated labour.

(Most studies have found a sharp drop in endorphin levels with use of epidural or opioid pain medication.)

High endorphin levels during labour and birth can produce an altered state of consciousness that helps women flow with the process, even when it is long and arduous.

Despite the hard work of labour and birth, a woman with high endorphin levels can feel alert, attentive and even euphoric as she begins to get to know and care for her baby after birth.

Endorphins may play a role in strengthening the mother-infant relationship at this time. A drop in endorphin levels in the days after birth may contribute to the “blues” that many women experience at this time.

So where do the drugs fit in?

When women are in control, in a safe environment, undisturbed by bright lights and utilising their innate ability to give birth there is very little call for drugs of any sort.  A woman is working with her body and not against it.  This is the birth midwives most witness when women give birth at home. The mother’s adrenaline levels are low because she is in control. This hormone of fight, flight or freeze is not required as the mother is calm. The reverse is unfortunately often the case in a hospital setting.

As soon as a labouring woman sets foot in a hospital she is in unfamiliar territory surrounded by professional strangers. Her adrenaline levels start to rise and she begins to feel fear. Her body will start to work against her as it will not allow her to give birth in a place where it perceives there is a threat. The first intervention has already occurred – a strange environment.

Next someone will suggest that they rupture her membranes as her labour will have started to slow down and become painful.  This intervention will lead to an intravenous drip of artificial hormone being used to speed up labour.  This is known as the ‘cascade of interventions’ which often leads to an instrumental (forceps) birth or a caesarean section.

Because of these interventions she will need constant monitoring which will restrict her movement and inhibit an active birth.

Induction of labour may be suggested because a mother is over her due date.  An induced labour – using synthetic hormones – is usually more difficult than one that starts spontaneously, often resulting in an epidural and forceps delivery. I use the word delivery rather than birth because a doctor will extract a baby from the mother rather than the mother giving birth.

Induction of labour is one of the main reasons for the increased and rising caesarean section rate in Britain today, with a national average of 22% and in some hospitals up to 35%.

Remember a C-section is major surgery with all the risks to mum and baby that any major operation entails. Babies born by C-section frequently suffer from breathing difficulties due to drugs given to the mother and because they have not been born vaginally. Local anaesthetics, opioids, and other analgesics usually cross the placenta and can affect the new-born, for example, they can weaken the new-born’s urge to breathe.

All the drugs used during labour have side effects for the mother, the baby or both. They also affect the newborn’s instinct to breastfeed and receive the potent antibodies contained in the mother’s first milk –colostrum –protecting it from the effects of the germs in its own environment.

Hypnobirthing teaches women and their birth companion how to release their own reserves of Oxytocin, to stay calm and in control, and work with their body and natural resources. This keeps their adrenaline levels low and avoids the need to go down the drug route with all its side effects for mothers, babies and fathers.

Hypnobirthing promotes the “I can do this” approach – rather than “I hope I can do this”.

Anne Jeffery
Hypnobirthing Practitioner and Health Visitor