Research shows that relaxation during labor and birth allows for a dramatic reduction in the stress reaction. When subjected to stress (of any kind) or fear, be it real or anticipated, body changes take place that trigger a defense mechanism and institutes the fight or flight mechanism. The fight or flight mechanism is started by the autonomic (or involuntary) nervous system and includes body changes such as an increase in respirations and mild/moderate rapid heart rate. With this stress response, females have a strong tendency to take flight or flee. Obviously this is not practical during labor/birth.
Most of us teach about the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle as first described by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read in the late 1950s. Fear (due to lack of education and practical knowledge), leads to tension in the body – tension in the muscles of the body uses oxygen that would have normally been made available to the fetus and the uterus. This, in turn, decreases the efficiency of the uterine contractions and thus slows or in some cases, stops the labor process. Tense striated muscles contribute to an increased in lactic acid build up that impinges on pain receptors, magnifies pain perception and increases fatigue. Fatigue decreases the pain threshold, further increasing pain perception and reduces the laboring mother’s ability to conserve energy for the expulsive efforts needed during the second stage of labor.
Conscious relaxation and practicing coping techniques may be some of the first items removed from childbirth education curricula when timing in the class becomes an issue. However, initiating a relaxation response to contractions or pain stimuli can decrease metabolism, slow down the heart rate, calm breathing, reduce blood pressure and relax muscles – all of which has a positive effect on the baby, mother and labor. Click here to read entire article