Women's Health

Pregnancy

In spite of technology and medical science's ability to manage complex health problems, the current maternity care environment has increased risks for healthy women and their babies. It comes as a surprise to most women that standard maternity care does not reflect best scientific evidence. Every pregnant woman needs to know that birth is intended to happen simply and easily and that six key birth practices make birth safer for mothers and babies. Every pregnant woman also needs to know that the standard maternity care is not evidence-based and, therefore, the health-care provider and place of birth will influence the care that she receives in powerful ways.

Childbirth education can help women simplify pregnancy and birth and be a resource for understanding how decisions about maternity care influence the health and safety of mothers and babies. The physiologic process of birth is simply and carefully designed. Women's bodies are designed to grow, birth, and nourish babies. In the last weeks of pregnancy, a series of physiologic changes occur, mostly, as evidence suggests, orchestrated by the baby. The cervix softens and may begin to dilate and efface. The uterine muscle becomes increasingly responsive to oxytocin.

At first, oxytocin levels rise gradually and, when labor starts, more quickly. The pain associated with strong uterine contractions (the result of higher levels of oxytocin) sends a signal to the brain that stimulates the ongoing release of the large amounts of oxytocin required for strong, effective contractions. Coping with the increasingly strong contractions (by movement, relaxation, and other comfort measures) insures the continued release of oxytocin.

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