At a recent birth I attended, the mother gave birth in her sleep. I found a reference to this phenomenon in an old midwifery journal, The Science and Practice of Midwifery published in 1880 and written by a Dr W Playfair.
He writes that there are numerous authentic instances recorded where labour began while a mother was asleep and the baby was born without the mother awakening. If only we could invite this state in all women – midwives and doctors may become redundant!
It made me think of Dr Grantly Dick Read (1948, Revelation of Childbirth) who, nearly a century ago, changed women’s perceptions and experiences of birth from fear to confidence through his depth of understanding into natural childbirth. He says:”Civilisation and culture have brought influences to bear upon women which have introduced justifiable fears and anxieties concerning labour. The more cultured the races have become, the more dogmatic have they been in pronouncing childbirth to be a painful and dangerous ordeal.”
Dr Dick Read understood that fear and tension in the muscles led to pain and particularly in the uterine muscles as it consists of muscles that work in concertina with each other. He goes on to say: “Unfortunately, the natural tension produced by fear influences those muscles which close the womb and prevent the child from being driven out during childbirth. Therefore, fear inhibits; that is to say, gives rise to resistance at the outlet of the womb, when in the norma;l state, those muscles should be relaxed and free from tension. Such resistance and tension give rise to real pain, because the uterus is supplied by nerve cells that record pain set up by excessive tension.”
“Therefore fear pain and tension are the three evils which are not normal to the natural design but have been introduced by those who, in the course of civilisation, are in attendance at childbirth.“
Wow, some serious criticisms of medical progress from a medical doctor.
There are 8 Factors which Dr Dick Read says increase the sensations of pain in labour:
- Low Iron Levels – when a mother is anaemic, the capacity of her cells to store oxygen is limited. When there is less oxygen in the cell, the sensations of pain are increased. Vitamin C taken frequently on a daily basis helps iron uptake during pregnancy, as well as eating iron rich foods such as kale and spinach, free range eggs.
- Tiredness – by the end of a pregnancy, the body tires more easily as it nourishes and carries the baby. Rest and relaxation with good nutrition are the antidotes. Take extra magnesium daily to combat fatigue. Deep slow breaths help oxygenate the body.
- Weariness of mind – somehow when a woman is pregnant, she becomes public property. Sometimes friends and family downplay complaints of pregnancy, or may be too sympathetic. Any emotional upset or friction and stress can lead to mental exhaustion. Keep a close circle of friends who respect you and hold your boundaries. You don’t need to hear the chatter and fear other people wish to pass on to you.
- Depression and disappointment – a fraught relationship with your partner, lack of family support and a poor resource network can bring a pregnant woman to despair. Women need to help each other and reach out for help when you feel low.
- Loss of Control – All influences that increase a mother’s discomfort must be removed such as noise, bright lights, strong smells, hard surfaces, strangers, intrusions. Sleep restores. Set up an environment where sleep is easy. A soft bed or mattress, covers is needed, calm sleepy people around you, darkness. These help labour proceed.
- Racing fearful thoughts – can distract a mother from being present and calm. Focus on positive mantras and sayings, to bring your thoughts back to centre. You can do this. Your body and baby can work together harmoniously. Your body know what to do.
- Auto suggestion – when we watch television and film depictions of birth, the scene is always frantic and an emergency with blaring sirens and agitated people. These images are auto suggestions and we need to resist them during pregnancy and labour. Find images that give you confidence, that depict calm birth, normal birth. Practice relaxation consciously during pregnancy so that it is automatic and you can sink into a state of deep relaxation during childbirth.
- Suggestion – A person who is too sympathetic towards a woman during her pregnancy and labour is giving a subliminal message that they are weak. Women in labour do not need sympathy. They need strength, and presence. They need not to be judged. Woman need to really be seen and heard and listened to. But not sympathy. Sympathy by suggestion increases sensations of pain. The answer is to choose a birth partner who has a calm presence while knowledgable at the same time. The answer is to prepare your mind and body for giving birth.
Dr Michel Odent implores us to “Not Wake The Mother” before, during and after birth as mother and baby are in a state of altered awareness critical for their adaptation at this peak transition in their lives. Can you give birth to your baby while asleep? Yes, Its possible. And at the very least, worth a try!