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!