When a leading London doctor recently said prospective fathers should not attend the birth of their children as it makes labour more painful for the woman, everyone sat up and took notice. Dr Michel Odent, administrator of London’s Primal Health Research charity, said the anxiety brought on by the man’s presence could cause a drop in the woman’s levels of oxytocin. This hormone is vital to the birthing process and “If she can’t release oxytocin, she can’t have effective contractions, and everything becomes more difficult,” said Odent.
Whether or not he’s right, the main aim of the trendiest new birthing techniques is to relax the mother so much that her oxytocin levels increase.
Hypnobirthing: Rs 9,500 for five sessions
Accupuncture: Rs 400-800 for a 30-minute session
Reflexology: Rs 800 for a 30-40 minute session
In India, these methods - hypnobirthing, reflexology, acupuncture and aromatherapy-are mainly available at expensive boutique hospitals. The high oxytocin levels “help in contractions during labour and quicker birth”, says gynaecologist Dr Shivani Sachdev of SCI Healthcare.
The focus on oxytocin is part of a trend to help woman have ‘happier’ births. Hospitals are willing to go the extra mile for expectant mothers, be it the sound of rain in the Amazon forests, or a massage during labour. Dr Sachdev says, “It’s all about making the woman feel in charge of her labour.” These are new-fangled concepts in India, to be tried by the fashionable elite. But doctors report growing interest from ordinary people. “Every month, some 15-20 women at Delhi’s Phoenix Hospital invest in a childbirth techniques, either in a class, through hypnobirth or some other holistic approach,” says Dr Urvashi Sehgal, gynaecologist.
She recalls assisting 31-year-old Shefali Oberoi with labour just a month ago. “I found, to my surprise, that she had dozed off and had to be nudged awake for her delivery,” she says. The new mother agrees, laughing and remembering she was “in an ultra-relaxed state, despite being in labour for 13 hours. I got through without any pain-killers.”
Sometimes, expectant women are helped by a doula or hypnobirthing practitioner. Divya Deswal, is a doula in Delhi and says she generally sees four couples a month and has five sessions with a pregnant woman. “This therapy, prevalent in 34 countries, incorporates releasing the fears women have about labour, which often shuts down the physiological responses to birth. A book and a relaxation CD are part of the course, “says Deswal.
Some pregnant women also try aromatherapy as a uterine tonic or to stimulate circulation. Delhi aromatherapist Dr Naresh Arora says a mix of sandalwood, Bergamot and olive oil is best as it helps prevent stretch marks. Acupuncturist Imran says he has two sessions weekly with would-be mothers. “It helps to block pain signals from the brain during labour,” he says.
Then there is reflexology, where points in the feet are stimulated to speed up healing. “It relieves the stress between each contraction and helps the mother combat the next wave of pain,” says obstetrician Sudeshna Ray.