Labour and Birth


It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that the metamorphosis of a cluster of cells into a suckling baby is one of life’s abiding miracles.

At birth, and infant is gestationally immature physically, biochemically, and physiologically. Skin stimulation is important at all stages of life development, but especially so during pregnancy, labour, delivery and the nursing period.

One aspect of infant development which is especially fascinating, is the role of touch, in the form of pressure and stimulation of the infant’s skin from uterine contractions during a normal, uncomplicated labour and birthing process.

A normal newborn infant arrives with an impressive array of capabilities in being able to see, hear, smell, taste, cry, suck and experience touch.

Many changes must be induced during labour if the infant is to survive in the immediate post birth period. There are many theories in the scientific world regarding the exact causes of normal and pre term labour. However, it is known that there are several chemical pathways that lead to labour.

The protein,surfactant, which is produced by the foetal lung maybe the first hormonal signal for labour. In combination with a drop in the oxygen saturation levels of the placenta and foetal blood supply, labour commences.

What the foetus must be prepared to deal with during the birth process is the immediate period surrounding the birth.

The newborn needs to have in working order, the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, excretory, nervous and endocrine organ systems.

The short, intermittent stimulations of the skin of the foetus over the prolonged uterine contractions during labour provide, in addition to coaxing the foetus through the birth canal, a series of massive skin stimulations calculated to activate these systems.

Ashley Montague, in his book “Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin” reveals that an important function of the prolonged labour and uterine contractions serves much the same purpose that licking and grooming of the new born serve in animals.

Briefly, what happens is this; the biochemical changes induced by the reduction of oxygen and the increase of carbon dioxide initiates the complex process of respiration. The hole in the foetus’ heart begins to close preventing blood flow between left and right sides of the heart. The arterial duct between aorta and pulmonary artery begins to close. No more short cuts.

The muscles of the chest, abdomen, diaphragm, heart, as well as the lungs and the upper respiratory tract are being prepared for life outside the womb.

In addition, the temperature regulation of the body is now being taken over by the infant, as the experience of birth initiates the stimulation of the temperature regulation centres on the baby’s skin.

The mother’s whole organism during pregnancy has been prepared to meet her newborn infant‘s needs. The biological unity, the symbiotic relationship maintained by mother and foetus throughout pregnancy does not end at birth. It becomes more intensively functional after birth, having been elaborately prepared by nature through the pregnancy. On being expelled from the vagina, the pressure of vaginal walls on the infants chest helps to expel the amniotic fluid from the its lungs, making way for the first rush of atmospheric air into the lungs, inflating them.

Now, with arms and legs thrashing about, howling and yelling, protesting the journey he was compelled to make, everyone within 300 metres is alerted to the infant’s predicament of being unsupported outside the womb. Among the most important of the newborn infant’s needs are the signals it receives through the skin, its first medium of communication with the outside world.

This little V.I.P immediately now needs the enfolding warmth of mother’s embrace, literally getting in touch, skin on skin. The skin on skin contact is essential to continue the activation of his systems, and help mother through stage 3 of the birth; expelling the placenta.

In most obstetric units today, babies are not washed, but quickly dried and placed between the mother’s bare breasts, even before the cord is cut. Automatically, mother will inspect her infant from head to feet, counting fingers and toes, examining face and engaging eyes, encouraging sucking, stroking, cooing and caressing, rubbing, kissing, mothering, bonding.

So, if the metamorphosis of a cluster of cells into a suckling baby is one of life’s abiding miracles, then there is no doubt that the skin and its inherent sense of touch, whilst insouciant in it’s modesty, remains a fascinating vital organ without which we cannot live. It plays a mind bogglingly life supporting role.