You can see the full article here which I strongly recommend as it states much research concerning this subject.
…might be the best option for most women
What’s the big deal?
Postpartum hemorrhage is historically and globally the leading cause of maternal death (World Health Organization). The most dangerous time for a woman during the birth process is after her baby is born, around the time the placenta is birthed. Whilst the mother and baby meet face to face, and the family greet their new member, there is a lot of important work going on behind the scenes (ie. inside the woman).
The physiology of placental birth
This is an overview of what happens to ensure the placenta is born and the blood vessels feeding the placenta stop bleeding. If you want references, the information is available in any half decent anatomy and physiology text book (eg. Coad & Dunstall 2011; Rankin & Stables 2010)
Before the baby is born
Birth does not happen in distinct stages and the birth of the placenta is part of a complex process that begins before the baby is born. Oxytocin makes the uterus contract. Oxytocin is released by the posterior pituitary gland (in the brain) during labour to regulate contractions. It is one of the key birthing/bonding hormones. I really don’t have the space here to get into any depth about birth hormones, so check out the work of Sarah Buckley to find out more. As the birth of the baby becomes imminent, high levels of oxytocin are circulating in the mother’s blood stream. This creates strong uterine contractions which move the baby through the vagina, and prepare the mother and baby for post-birth bonding behaviours.
After the birth of the baby the contraction pattern is interrupted. The placenta transfers it’s blood volume to the baby ‘handing over’ the job of oxygenation to the lungs – the placenta is now emptier and less bulky. Instinctive mother-baby interactions stimulate further oxytocin release and the uterus responds by contracting. These interactions involve smell, touch (skin-to-skin), taste, sound… the baby ‘crawls’ on the mothers abdomen, his feet stimulating her uterus to contract. He may attach to the breast and feed, however this is not essential. The placenta is compressed and the blood in the intervillious spaces (the interface between mother’s blood system and the placenta/baby’s blood system) is forced back into the spongy layer of the decidua (uterine lining). Retraction of the uterine muscle fibres constrict the blood vessels supplying the placenta, preventing blood from draining back through the maternal vascular tree (mother’s blood vessels feeding the placenta). This congestion results in the veins rupturing and the villi shearing off the uterine wall. A clot forms behind the placenta. The non-elastic placenta is unable to remain attached and peels away – usually starting from the middle.
At this point you may notice a small gush of blood as the placenta separates and the umbilical cord lengthen as the placenta moves downwards.
The placenta leaves the upper segment of the uterus and further strong contractions bring the walls of the uterus into opposition – compressing the blood vessels. At the same time the contracted uterine muscle fibres act as ‘living ligatures’ to the blood vessels running through them preventing further blood flow. An increase in the activity of the coagulation system means
that clot formation in the torn blood vessels is maximised and the placental site is rapidly covered by a fibrin mesh.
As the placenta leaves the uterus the mother may feel the urge to push again and birth her placenta. Or, she may be far too busy with her new baby and the placenta will sit in her vagina until she moves.
This process is usually complete within an hour of the baby’s birth. However, sometimes it takes longer ie. hours… and hours.
Skip ahead within the article: You can read the Full Article Here.
A safe and effective physiological placental birth requires effective endogenous oxytocin release.
This is generally facilitated by:
- A physiological birth of the baby: No interventions during the birth process eg. induction, augmentation, epidural, medication, instructions or complications.
- An environment that supports oxytocin release: Privacy, low lighting, warmth and comfort. No strangers entering the birth space eg. paed or extra midwife.
- Undisturbed skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby: others must not handle the baby or engage the mother in conversation (no patting, no chatting and no hatting – Carla Hartley). These interactions may result in breastfeeding, but this should not be ‘pushed’ as not all babies want to breastfeed immediately.
- No fiddling: No feeling the fundus. No clamping, cutting or pulling on the umbilical cord. No clinical observations or ‘busying’ around the room.
- No stress and fear: Those in the room must be relaxed. The midwife needs to be comfortable with waiting and have patience. The mother must not be stressed as adrenaline inhibits oxytocin release. This is why a PPH often occurs after a complicated birth (eg. shoulder dystocia) and when the baby needs resuscitating.
- No prescribed timeframes: Many hospital policies require intervention within half an hour if the placenta has not birthed. This is not helpful and generates anxiety which is counter productive.
Of course this is a general list and some women are perfectly capable of birthing their placentas amongst the chaos of siblings and noise etc. Probably because it is their own, familiar chaos and they are relaxed in the midst of it. Others want the cord cut after it has stopped pulsing eg. if it is short. I think the most important factor in ensuring a safe physiological birth of the placenta is a physiological birth of the baby.
However, in Australia (AIHW 2011) only 21% of women go into spontaneous labour and continued to labour without augmentation. Out of that % how many labour without an epidural or other medication? Out of that % how many are birthing in the conditions described above? I pose the question because these stats are not presented. I don’t need to ask the question because I am familiar with hospital practice… and most women are birthing in hospital.
Until hospitals are able to provide care that facilitates a physiological birth process, women choosing to birth in them may find that the safest option is active management of their placental birth. There are further options within this that can be negotiated (see above). Physiological placental birth is an option and possible if you manage to avoid induction, augmentation, an epidural or complications – but be aware of how difficult it may be, and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen.