Labor is not a Toothache!

From Kim Kardashian Wants C-Section Posted by Johnny Robish on April 10, 2013 - 10:18pm..... “Kim Kardashian Wants C-Section: It’s being reported that pregnant Kim Kardashian wants to give birth by C-section as soon she’s 8-months pregnant because she wants her life back. And since Kanye is a musician, I would assume it’ll most likely be a “Middle-C” section.” ..... I was at a dinner party last night in celebration of the recent homebirth of twins in Santa Barbara, CA. During a lovely evening we discussed a lot of topics and the subject of Ms. Kardashian’s choice came up. This blog is not about bashing her obvious narcissism but her choice did produce a dialogue about labor pain. I have given this subject a lot of thought during my metamorphosis from hospital based to home based practitioner. Since epidurals and narcotics are not available at home we rely on other methods to deal with pain. Movement, water, hypnosis, massage and strong support are beneficial and work well for many laboring women. The key is that these things help cope with the pain but don’t remove it. To understand why coping but not eliminating pain is important we need to ask ourselves why labor is painful in the first place. I mean, if we believe in evolution why wouldn’t the pain of labor evolve away since natural selection usually eliminates those things that are detrimental to the survival of the species. There is, of course, the biblical Garden of Eden explanation but let me put that aside for the moment. Just suppose labor pain is not detrimental but is beneficial. I give credit to my colleague, Aleks Evangelidi, LM, for her insight in this regard........ Anyone who has ever had a toothache or a kidney stone will argue there is no benefit to the pain other than to let us know something is wrong. Painkillers are a godsend in these circumstances. But labor is not a toothache and it is time to look at the pain of labor in a different light. All mammals have labor and all mammals have labor pains. The onset of labor contractions usually build slowly but eventually become quite painful lasting 40-60 seconds followed by 2-3 minutes of relief. The mammalian body responds to this pain by releasing its own narcotics and neurotransmitters that nature designed just for that purpose. Endorphins and enkephalins are the body’s natural opiates. Oxytocin release produces warmth and attachment responses and adrenaline helps the body cope with stress and possibly spaces out the next contraction allowing time for rest and recovery. And don't forget Cortisol, which orchestrates all sorts of needed stress responses including blood sugar modulation. It really is a beautiful cocktail that nature has designed just for this purpose............ When a laboring woman is not allowed to cope with pain as nature designed it is easily understood why hospital epidural rates approach 90%. Having to stay flat in bed so continuous fetal monitoring (CFM) can occur does not allow for the natural desire and ability of mammals to move about in labor to diminish discomfort and use their own pain stimulated cocktail. And so, modern obstetrics encourages epidural use to eliminate pain and modern women think this is a good choice because to them: Labor Pain = Toothache........ It gets back to the saying about the long habit of not thinking something wrong gives it the appearance of being right. Nature is pretty smart. And a toothache does not have a baby inside but a pregnant woman does. And when a woman undergoes the stress of labor so does her baby. Her body’s response to pain releases that cyclical cocktail and those substances certainly cross the placenta. And just maybe all those neurotransmitters and hormones that help mom deal with the pain and stress of labor help her baby cope as well. For after 9 months of sitting comfortably in the womb suddenly everything that baby has ever known is changing. Labor has to be stressful and even painful for the baby and the suddenness of delivery by c-section even more so. Mom’s natural opiates, oxytocin and adrenaline clearly serve a purpose in assisting her baby in this transition. Denying the baby these substances through the commonplace use of epidurals or scheduled c-sections is counter to nature’s design. Babies are little sponges absorbing every experience and forging new and sometimes permanent neural pathways that will be used in the future. Altering labor has to mean altering this process as well. I was never taught this way of thinking in residency and in my 31 years as a physician I have never seen this discussed in a grand rounds or an academic journal and yet it is so common sensical. Modern medicine needs a bit of humbling and as we are beginning to discover when you mess with Mother Nature you inevitably get something not intended........... The process of labor is painful for a reason and that reason just may be how it benefits the baby’s transition to extra-uterine life. Women are too often told that the pain of labor need not be endured. And while modern anesthesia is also a godsend and epidurals have a place in some labors, obstetricians need to rethink their unconcerned attitude towards its ubiquitous use. Especially in those cases where they scoff at the woman with a birth plan that states an avoidance of pain medicine. Allowing laboring women the freedom to move about and use other pain coping mechanisms might just be doing future generations a favor. Once again it boils down to informed consent. If Ms. Kardashian still wants her unnecessary c-section so she can have her life back after reading this blog then that is her choice and should be respected. I am willing to bet she has never been taught about or thought of birth in this way. Dr. F