Undisturbed: A Key to Natural Birth

Undisturbed natural birth. It’s fascinating – not because there’s something rebellious or selfish about it, but because research increasingly supports it as safer for you… and safer for your baby.

Undisturbed: not disturbed : not altered or interfered with, allowing the dough to rest undisturbed, wanted to read undisturbed for a few hours, a pristine forest undisturbed by humans1

Natural birth is timeless, but at the same time research on natural childbirth is at the cutting edge – we’re sitting at the tip of the iceberg. And it’s because of hormones.

We’re just gaining an understanding of the hormones of birth – even the understanding of hormones in general, and how they impact us day-to-day.

Hormones Guide Our Bodies Every Day

When you think about hormones, we usually think about estrogen, testosterone. You think about puberty 😉 But hormones have a huge impact on our bodies throughout our lifetime. There are hormones that we don’t even consider to be hormones. For example, insulin is a hormone. Leptin is a hormone. We think of these substances without realizing that they are hormones.

The endocrine system (that’s our hormonal system) orchestrates much going on in our bodies, and it’s no surprise that it plays a profound role in pregnancy and birth, a profound role in our newborn’s transition to the world, and in mother-baby interaction.

We’ve known about oxytocin and we’ve known about adrenaline and nor-adrenaline (epinephrine and nor-epinephrine) We have a lot of research on adrenaline and the “fight or flight” system.

But the “calm and connection” system (which oxytocin is part of) hasn’t been studied as much. Part of this is because men have been doing much of the research and they’re often closer to the fight or flight hormones. A growing number of female researchers are at the forefront of the calm and connection hormone research – often because they are interested in their own hormonal experiences through pregnancy, birth, and mothering.

Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, a Swedish researcher who established the connection between oxytocin and love, first became interested in oxytocin and its calming effects when she nursed her own babies.

We get a lot of insights when we look at the hormonal system through the lens of mothering. We start to understand the power of our hormones.

(NOTE: Want a Perfect Birth Plan Template? Use this template and step-by-step videos to write a birth plan that gets your birth team on your side for a beautiful birth experience! Get the birth plan kit here.)

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Hormones in the Safety (and Efficiency) of Childbirth

It’s fascinating to look at how hormones create safety in birth. It’s fascinating to look at how they structure and trigger the process of birthing.

What does that mean? It means that labor follows a pattern, a blueprint. Certain hormones activate different parts of the birth process – when those hormones fire at the right time.

Adrenaline and the fight-or-flight system actually make a great example.

If those hormones, that system, are triggered early in labor, they have the power to slow down, or even stop contractions.


(and it’s a big BUT!)

Stress hormone levels rise gradually through labor. At the end of labor there’s a surge of these hormones, which is one of the things that facilitates the “fetal ejection reflex” (or the quick birth of the baby). The body just involuntarily gives these powerful, irresistible contractions that bring the baby down and out. No need to have the “Push, push, push!” chorus chanted at you.

I have noticed that first-time moms may have to push more. When you’re a first-time mom, it’s the first time a baby is coming through your bones, coming through your pelvis. I think sometimes a first time mom has to give it more “oomph” 😉 – if you have any thoughts on this, share in the comments!

It’s rare for a second or subsequent mom to need much coaching to push. I assisted with one mom who had a really big baby, and we had to encourage her to push her little football player out. But even with her it wasn’t the same. She was doing it, it was just more encouraging her with “You can do this! You CAN do this! Just give it a couple of more pushes.” He was so big and she just really had to open for him.

The fetal ejection reflex is the real deal. It really guides mothers through getting their babies out. Nobody has to say anything. In fact, the thing we say most often is: “As soon as you feel like it’s time to push, you just go with it.” The only other instruction that might be given is “Okay, I want you to pant now to help baby ease over the perineum.”

Your hormones trigger a powerful process.

If these hormones are activated early in labor, they’re detrimental. You want them to be activated late in labor. That’s part of the power of honoring this hormonal blueprint.

Sarah Buckley talks about this extensively in her book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. She relates an anecdote from one tribe’s traditional to help a mama in labor who was having trouble near the end. Helpers would gather up the young people from the village and bring them close to the laboring mama – then the young people would suddenly start yelling in concert! Maybe it’s like when someone tries to scare the hiccups out of you. These helpers figured “we’re going to scare the baby out of the woman!”

What’s really happening: The mom gets a surge of the fight or flight hormones, which can trigger that fetal ejection reflex.

The hormones need to be there, but they need to be there at the right times.

Undisturbed Birthing

The “Why” Behind Labor

You can look at many things that happen in labor and birth through a hormonal lens and understand more clearly why that happens.

For example, as my babies get close, I always get desperately thirsty.

Catecholamines (the stress hormones, often abbreviated CA) cause a dry mouth. They cause you to feel more energy. They make you want to assume an upright position. You have the urge to hold onto something.

Think about all of those things, and how they might help when it’s time to push your baby out.

How Hormones Make Your Baby Safer

I’ve mentioned that hormones make birth safer for the mother in this and previous articles. I have an entire lesson about it in my online birthing classes. But one of the things that I’ve been researching lately is how much these hormones influence the baby as well.

The natural hormones of birth have a protective effect on your baby.

Can Stress Hormones Help Your Baby? When the Timing Is Right…

For example, the CAs help protect the baby from hypoxia, which is a deoxygenated state.

As the baby is being born he or she has a CA surge (the theory is that perhaps it’s pressure on the head that triggers the effect). That increases glucose and free fatty acids, which are extremely protective (newborns especially need glucose in the early transition period after birth).

I was able to go to a midwifery conference a few weeks ago and take the STABLE class (Sugar, Temperature, Airway, Blood pressure, Lab work, and Emotional support). The class was on helping a newborn stabilize, especially if the baby seemed to be having trouble. It was an excellent training. The very first part of the training was talking about sugar and how vital it is… it’s how you make sure that the baby has enough energy to transition and stay healthy!

Isn’t it then fascinating to learn that hormones released during an undisturbed birth process actually free up more glucose, giving the baby more sugar in that early neonatal period when he or she is going through so many transitions and really needs that energy? It’s incredible.

The CA surge also enhances respiratory adaptation. It increases the absorption of amniotic fluid so that the baby’s lungs dry out more quickly. It stimulates the baby’s surfactant release (the substance that helps the lungs stay open).

The CAs assist in a shift to what’s called non-shivering thermogenesis (basically heat production without having to shiver). Babies have a special kind of fat which is called brown fat. That brown fat can be used to create heat through nonshivering thermogenesis.

The hormonal flow stimulates breathing.

It enhances responsiveness and tone. Think about tone as when people show you how toned their muscles are, and they flex their arms. Tone is how flexed the baby is. If the baby is limp s/he doesn’t have good tone. If your newborn is sound asleep s/he may be sprawled out… but usually if you look at newborns when they’re awake they tend to be pulled in close. They like little “froggy positions” like their positions in the womb. They have good tone. Having good tone is good for the baby in many ways.

One of those ways is related to temperature. When the baby has good tone and has his/her arms and legs pulled up close to his/her body, that decreases the surface area of their bodies. There’s just not as much exposed to the air. That helps them maintain temperature too.

The CAs also help promote that period of wide eyed alertness that we call the quiet alert stage in newborns. A normal newborn is wide awake and a alert in the first hour or so after birth – he or she is ready to bond with you! That bonding time is ideal for both of you.

These are all adaptive mechanisms that are very good for our babies – and hormones stimulate them!

Endorphins and Your Baby

Beta-endorphin is another important birthing hormone that’s good for your baby. During labor the fetal pituitary gland actually secretes endorphins, and the placenta tissues and membranes do as well. In fact the level of endorphins coming from the placental tissues and membranes is actually higher than endorphins in maternal blood.

Again, I talk about this in my online birthing class. In that particular lesson, I discuss how beta-endorphin is the hormone that’s responsible for helping you go to “labor land.” It has somewhat of an opiate effect on the brain. In fact, it acts very much like opiates do on the brain. Many women describe it as feeling like they’re unified with all the other women who are laboring, or with all women who have birthed before them. Some women describe it as feeling like they’re off into the universe. Or that they’re connecting with their baby in a special place, a transcendent space, almost. It’s protective for us as moms. It helps us to rest. It has pain relieving effects, just like we would think that opiates would have.

It’s helpful for your baby too – your baby is also getting these effects. And they may even be more powerful for your baby, just because the baby is getting them from a much more concentrated source.

Endorphins are pleasurable hormones, but they also induce feelings of dependency. That dependency for the mother and the baby is good because it’s a dependency on one another. So it’s fostering those mothering instincts for you, and your baby’s instinct to be nurtured by you, and to need you, and to seek you.

Endorphins make it pleasurable to be a mama <3

Kimball researched these effects on mothers and babies and feels that early cord cutting may “deprive mothers and infants of placental opioid molecules designed to induce interdependence of mothers and infants.” That’s from page 105 of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah Buckley, quoting Kimball’s research.

The Beauty and Power of Undisturbed Natural Birth

Here’s the big takeaway:

Birth is beautifully well designed to work.

Physiological, undisturbed birth generally works best.

Undisturbed birth doesn’t necessarily mean that nobody is there. An undisturbed birth is not the same thing as an unassisted birth. But an undisturbed birth, where these hormonal processes are honored and not messed with, is usually going to be ideal for mother and baby.

We have emergency care when we need it. But we also have incredible advances in hygiene, clearer understanding about blood volume expansion and nutrition in pregnancy, and a growing understand of just how well-designed birth is…

…we live in a time when we can truly rise and step into the power of birthing and mothering our babies.

Think about it. Ask: “What are the implications of that for me? As a laboring mom? I want to honor this as much as possible!”

One of the best ways to honor this is to wait! Wait before you go to the hospital.

When you feel those first few contraction, don’t jump up, grab your bag, and run to the hospital. Wait!

If your husband asks you “Do you want to call the doctor?” “Do you want to talk to the midwife?” and you are angry at him for asking you that…. Chances are you’re pretty far along and that would be a good time to go in 😉 Wait until you’re really working with it.

If you feel irritated, and you just want to work with this, and you can’t imagine calling anybody, or talking to anybody, it’s probably time to go in. Or, if you’re having a home birth, it’s time to call the midwife and tell her to hustle!

That’s a good way, I feel, to protect the hormonal flow at birth. Because by the time you go in, things are very well established. You got things flowing in a safe space and that train is running. It’s hard to stop a train running full speed ahead!!

We can talk about a lot more ways to preserve this. We talk about it in MamaBaby Birthing during the weekly Q&A calls. But today I really wanted to just share some renewed insights, and new insights. I wanted to share the beauty of birth – not just for you, but for your baby. Embrace it gentle mother. You are powerful. You are mother.

Want more on how to have a great natural birth experience? Check out these posts:

(NOTE: Want a Perfect Birth Plan Template? Use this template and step-by-step videos to write a birth plan that gets your birth team on your side for a beautiful birth experience! Get the birth plan kit here.)

Handle Labor Pain

  1. Undisturbed. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/undisturbed 
Undisturbed Natural Birth

About the author 


Kristen is a pregnancy coach, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! I've spent nearly two decades helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Does complete support for a sacred birth and beautiful beginning for your baby resonate with you? Contact me today to chat about how powerful guidance and coaching can transform your pregnancy, birth, and mothering journey <3

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  1. That symphony of hormones working together in birth is completely amazing. As far as the pushing stage goes, my first definitely took longer. It was an unmedicated birth and I was feeling the urge to push, but it still took an hour or hour and a half of hard work to push her out. The subsequent three babies have pretty much flown out with two or three pushes as soon as I was fully dialated. I always say baby number 1 paved the way 🙂

    1. I loved that Kristen – I think that first babies do pave the way (in so many different ways). There’s something special about that first time opening for a new life <3 Sometimes it does take work, but it’s amazing work!

  2. I absolutely agree about pushing. I just had my first in a beautiful unassisted hospital birth. I followed all the cues and labored at home (unbeknownst to me who thought/hoped it was just Braxton Hicks!) Until my water broke. We got to the hosital as soon as active labor began. When i was fully dialated I was emotionally and physically spent, but noticed that when I pushed just a little bit, my body did the rest. I was so afraid that pushing would be the worst part but because I let everything progress naturally it was by far the easiest part of labor – and the shortest. My happy, healthy baby girl was born after only 30 minutes of pushing. A truly transformative moment in my life.

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