Women Are Losing the Capacity to Give Birth

Are women losing the capacity to give birth?Michel Odent’s conference on Birth & Primal Health Research gave data was clear that we humans are losing the capacity to give birth! How can that be?

It is pure evolution in action: when we do not use certain functions of our physiology, the “message” to our always-changing body-mind system — a message that becomes passed down to future generations through changes in DNA expression — is, “That function is no longer needed.” What function are we talking about? All of them that are associated with natural birth, and a woman’s body going into labor on her own.

Before anyone questions our commitment to women and mothers, know we understand that there absolutely are times when medical interventions are necessary for birth. We know and we mourn with the women who’ve had traumatic birth situations, some which even ended in the death of her child(ren). We stand firm for all mothers, advocating for as natural as possible whenever possible, while knowing that in the end, we do whatever we need to do to keep mama and baby safe.

But, Dr. Odent’s words need to be heard over and over and over again, so that women and mothers feel empowered. He advocates for the resurgence of our own bodies doing the work that many in the medical profession have taken on as their own duties. Dr. Odent says that as a medical professional himself, a French Obstetrician, author and advocate for mothers for over 50 years. He has had the generational experience to watch what has happened both physiologically and psychologically to women going through labor and he’s worried that our bodies are slowly losing the capacity to give birth.

Oxytocin: Liquid Peace

It’s all about oxytocin…the hormone of love…the moral molecule…”liquid peace,” as I like to call it. Oxytocin mediates a massive array of positive effects on humans: decreased stressed response, higher thresholds for pain, increased trust, decreased depression, increased social interaction and responsiveness to social cues. It is the chemical of connection. As Michel Odent has synthesized in his Primal Research Database, it mediates the central capacity to love — to love self, to love others, to love the environment.

Odent was straightforward with his point: “The ‘capacity to love’ is shaped in the period of birth.” Before proceeding, he was emphatic about the point that I also want to make clear: when we’re talking about this kind of epidemiological research (“epidemiology: the study of disease and health in populations“), we are NOT talking about any single individual.

So please don’t read this and immediately think about anyone you know, including your own child. Yes, of course, adoptive mothers love their children and those who mother without giving birth clearly have capacities to love. But, as Odent put it in his enchanting French accent, “Forget individuals, forget your family, forget people you know.” This is about our global human family, and our shared future as a species. He’s talking about giving birth being an evolutionary carriage for continuing the genetic human trait known as the capacity to love, and it’s important.

Why? Because impaired capacity to love is central to an array of psycho-social issues such as depression, self-injury, bullying, narcissistically vulnerable personality traits,  and suicide.

Birthing a Baby, Birthing A Psyche

Childbirth is a time of massive organization of oxytocin circuitry that persists lifelong — for the child being born, and also for the mother. In his session on primal health research and epigenetics, Odent pointed out that dozens of studies from around the world have found autism risk factors around the time of birth.

As I wrote in my book Parenting For Peace, “Biochemical cascades triggered during unimpeded mammalian labor and birth (and postpartum) establish in the baby enduring set points for his brain’s self-regulating and social functions. These thresholds will to a great extent forecast how able this individual will be to respond to later influence — including parental, educational, and spiritual guidance — aimed at cultivating socially conscious attitudes and behaviors.”

While many different variables have been found as risk factors, induction with synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) is emerging as a possible primary focus for autism risk.  (Don’t shoot the messenger!) One example Odent gave was a study in Japan of outcomes from two hospitals in the same neighborhood (thus same population), which found a much higher incidence of autism in those children born in the hospital whose standard protocol was to induce labor with synthetic oxytocin at 39 weeks.

Dissing Oxytocin, Risking Our Healthy Future

The rampant use of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to induce or augment labor has led to a loss of physiological function through disuse. Quite bluntly put, we have been chipping away at our oxytocin system, because, as Odent said, “We’ve lost our physiological need for the oxytocin system, because most women give birth with a drip.”

At the moment that I was writing this, Dr. Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg was giving a plenary talk entitled “Oxytocin: The Inner Guide to Motherhood.” It has been an excellent primer on the role of oxytocin, the amazing effects of oxytocin on a close, connected, more easy attachment between mother and baby.

She also showed very clearly what happens to our natural oxytocin system when synthetic oxytocin is administered in place of our naturally released version. For one thing, synthetic oxytocin comes in one steady stream, whereas our natural, “inner pharmacy” version is pulsatile: it comes in rhythmic waves.

Related: Michel Odent’s 4 Tips To Ensure The Birth You Want

She asks quite directly, “Do we protect and use our oxytocin system as we should?” Oxytocin is centrally related to our natural capacity to give birth. When we have a scheduled C-section, for example, there is no oxytocin release in the mother’s brain, and thus a severe interruption in the establishment of the postnatal oxytocin circuitry wiring in the newborn. Similarly, as an epidural blocks nerve impulses of pain, so too does it block the Ferguson reflexes responsible for stimulating the action of the oxytocin system.

Again, please note that we do not want to judge, nor shame any mother who had had a C-section, scheduled or otherwise. As natural-minded mamas, yes, we prefer natural births and believe them to be best for mamas and babies. Our guess is most mamas who have had to have C-sections think that too, but were in situations that we couldn’t imagine and had to make decisions they believed to be the best for their babies. We know that mamas who go through C-sections often feel this loss of the oxytocin release almost as strongly as their babies, and have traumatic birth stories as a result. 

Michel Odent summed up the sobering conclusion of his research with this chilling observation: after just three or four generations of highly technological childbirth, it seems very possible that our human oxytocin system is weakening. Or weakened…much like climate change…weakened is now the word we’re using, and it’s just the levels of weakening that we find ourselves discussing.

And that also means our capacity to give birth is weakening…weakened.

So, what can we do? First and foremost, advocate for Pitocin-free births! Share your positive, Pitocin-free birth stories, and be sure that other mamas to know that there really is something incredible about going through childbirth when your body tells the baby it’s time to get out!

Spread the word: let us protect our joy, our peace, our ability to be deeply connected humans. Let us protect our species in our most glorious potential.

Advocate for oxytocin!


Photo: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

19 thoughts on “Women Are Losing the Capacity to Give Birth”

  1. FWIW, I would think that oxytocin exposure during BFing would be more frequent and more of an issue over the long term. I would think research should consider that aspect (perhaps it does, but the article here does not).

  2. I was wondering too about the role of oxytocin and breastfeeding and how it relates to all of this. Seems strange it is not addressed.

  3. How does one get from “it seems very possible that our human oxytocin system is weakening” to “in other words, our capacity to give birth is weakening”?
    Also, since oxytocin and pitocin are the exact same molecule — bioidentical, in fact — what is your explanation for how our bodies can tell the difference?

  4. It is important to set aside our technologies when people are talking to us, to focus, listen, love. …To connect with love during pregnancy, no matter what other circumstances, receive love, and pass it to our babies. To connect in love during birth, no matter what the circumstances to help ourselves through, and help the little loved one through. Breastfeeding needs, as often as possible to be a time to rest with the baby, without interruptions other than the truths of siblings of live conversation.
    Not saying this was always achieved, but “let your first thought be love,” is a step in the right direction. We weren’t made for selfishness and strife.


  5. I appreciate all the engagement, and let me see if I can address a few things:
    –Kerstin indeed talked a LOT about breastfeeding and oxytocin, and there is a lot of excellent and fascinating data from her research on that. Blogging “in real time” is not a very exacting way to do things, but rather a “wow, this is being said *right now* kind of affair, so not everything is included, by a long shot.
    — I was sharing Michel Odent’s sensibilities on our capacity to birth weakening; the data is there to support this. A recently concluded massive epidemiological study was done, which included 40,000 births in two cohorts: one group who gave birth between 1959 and 1965 and the other group between 2002 and 2008. These were all first births. After controlling for an array of confounding factors, the average labor time for the later group was 2.5 hours longer.
    The hypothetical piece there was the notion that our oxytocin system is weakening, which Odent also backed up with various snapshots of disparate research findings–such as growing rates of sexual dysfunction (such that JAMA recently declared it a public health issue); and data showing that college students’ capacity for empathy has dropped by 40% over the past 30 years.
    — One of the big problems with synthetic v. endogenous oxytocin, and indeed, how our bodies know the difference, is the delivery system: our natural system administers it in pulsatile fashion (rhythmically), whereas Pitocin and other synthetics are delivered in a linear dose.
    I hope & intend to spotlight more of Kerstin’s fascinating, important oxytocin research in the future. Thanks for letting me know you’re interested!

  6. Synthetic oxytocin (pitocon, syntocinon), administered via IV, does not cross the maternal blood-brain barrier. But its presence in the bloodstream does provide negative feedback to the brain to deregulate endogenous oxytocin release from the pituitary gland. Thus you lose all the effects of endogenous oxytocin on behavior and mood.

  7. Thank you, greenhands, for articulating well what I couldn’t quite get out at midnight here in post-almost-tsunami Honolulu. Well said.

  8. @auntbea- Just because a hormone replacement is made in a lab and termed bioidential, does not mean that hormone is released in the same way the body would release its own endogenous hormones. That is the difference. Not to mention other ingredients in it, that are not natural to the human body. Remember this article is the viewpoint of the author.

  9. I’m interested in the location of the case studies – “we” are losing the capacity to give birth would seem to refer to the human species, however, surely it is not a worldwide phenomenon, particularly in terms of population percentages, that births are so medicalized & inducements are so common

  10. It’s interesting to read this and then compare this research to the number of child abuse cases, which seem on the rise. As others have stated, breastfeeding does produce a bond between mother and child. But this article is more so addressing the issue of the immediate bond that is formed between mother and child in birth. The bond that is hard-wired into our animal brains. That is what is weakening and even though we might not have to fight of vikings after giving birth or whatever. This birth bond is being weakened and the question really is “At What Cost?”.

  11. I wonder when someone is going to look into the fact that we are saturated in hormone-disrupting chemicals in far greater concentrations than were mothers of the previous few generations, and that hormone function is vital in childbirth as well as many other areas which have seen dramatically increasing pathology. Epigenetics is a fascinating new field of study, but there is so much evidence of hormone malfunction becoming more widespread: widespread vitamin D deficiencies (it’s a hormone, not actually a vitamin, although called such); what was once called precocious puberty and a cause for medical concern has become “the new normal” (puberty as young as 8 has been reclassified out of pathology due to its new prevalence); thyroid dysfunction has become fairly commonplace; insulin resistance has become fairly commonplace. There may indeed have been a dramatic shift in what happens during labor for the populace at large, even in unhindered labors, but if that is so, why not also look at the state of our hormones today as opposed to previous generations? Hormones matter, and hormones are being disrupted across the board.

    1. Love your questions on hormones and how dis-regulated our systems are becoming in the last decades.

      Back to the main article, I would add that on top of advocating for “natural” options, we most importantly need to advocate for the systemic conditions that make our environments, relationships and processes “un-natural” and the cost of stress/cortisol on all of our bodies-mind-spirit.

      We can’t keep focusing on women’s bodies abilities to produce or not produce an hormone. We need to look at the root cause in our systems and environment to what produces such misbalance in the first place.

      And loving indeed ALL of us mothers who do the best we can in these moments to not only survive but bring about our Babies in the best possibly way accessible with the resources that we have. Sisterhood collective love is also needed to induce more oxytocin between all of us. Appreciating that the article keep on inviting this approach.

  12. Thanks for bringing up this important dimension. I do address this piece of the complex tapestry in “Parenting for Peace,” including a significant discussion of the decreasing age of puberty.

  13. Pardon, I’m trying to speed read, here & may have missed something, but has anyone mentioned (I know Dr. Odent has said in the past) the important detail that when we get synthetic oxytocin, it is not accompanied by serantonin, like when it is produced naturally?

  14. Good point, Marlene. I actually haven’t heard Michel mention that point specifically, about serotonin occurring as a natural co-factor w/ oxytocin. Thanks for adding that important piece!

  15. Dr. Jack Kruse has been talking about how the incorrect diet, hormone disruption, epigenetics and technonology are impacting health for the past 2 years. He’s got some interesting insight from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, what’s needed to not only build a human brain, but what’s needed for it to run properly from a hormonal perspective. This didn’t just happen over night, its been steadily progressing over several generations.
    check out his site http://www.jackkruse.com/ and be prepared to have your paradigm shift.

  16. A mechanism for how this disruption would be passed from one mother to the next is not really addressed here. The word “evolution” was used, but clearly Darwinian natural selection could not be involved since the babies born in these technological ways do survive and reproduce. The passing on of acquired characteristics is not as scorned as an idea these days as it once was. The mechanism is thought to be the turning on or off of certain genes. So there could be a biological mechanism. It is not shown here that there is, or what it is. Environmental factors are certainly a possibility. I think attitudes towards birth passed on socially have a clear influence. We can work along those lines while a more scientifically robust explication of the oxytocin hypothesis is worked out. I would not want to bring this article to a doctor as any sort of proof that his deeply held ideas of birth are in error.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *