Giving birth is one of the most profound and transformative experiences a person can go through. It is a time when the body is pushed to its limits, and the emotional and psychological intensity can be overwhelming. One aspect of the natural birthing process that helps people cope with the power is often overlooked: the altered states of consciousness that many experiences during childbirth. In this blog post, we will explore the altered states of consciousness that can occur during childbirth, what they mean for you, and how they can support you in having a positive birthing experience.
An Overview of the States of Consciousness
During our day-to-day lives, we typically operate in an alert state of consciousness associated with beta brain waves. This is where were are
able to think critically, respond to urgent situations or threats, and make complex decisions. When we engage in meditative or mindful practices, we can slow down our thoughts and our brainwaves, in turn reaching a more calm and relaxed state. By relaxing the body and mind, we can also decrease the intensity of the sensations we experience in our bodies during childbirth.
Beta - Alert, anxiety dominant, external attention
Alpha - Very relaxed, passive attention
Theta - Deeply relaxed, inward focus (trance state)
Delta - Deepest relaxation, ecstasy, dream state,
Exploring altered states of consciousness during childbirth
Research has shown that releasing certain hormones during birth can affect brain wave activity. For example, the release of oxytocin, a hormone involved in the initiation and progression of labor, has been found to increase alpha and theta wave activity in the brain. Similarly, the release of endorphins, natural painkillers produced by the body, has been found to increase alpha and beta wave activity in the brain.
If you feel safe and can relax, alpha is the first altered state of consciousness many experience during childbirth. Think of this as your state when you meditate or daydream; this is alpha. In this state, answering questions becomes challenging. Incorporating deep breathing and meditative techniques will help you feel a bit more distant from your surroundings as you tap into your body's sensations and the natural rhythm it’s creating in labor.
As you relax and enter a deeper state of meditation, you enter theta, also known as “labor land.” Theta waves are associated with deep relaxation when individuals are in a state of meditation or hypnosis. This state is characterized by a relaxation of the body, a disconnection from the external environment, and a heightened awareness of the body's internal sensations. In this state, the birthing person can enter a meditative state that allows them to manage the pain of labor and give birth more effectively. The trance state is often achieved through deep breathing, visualization, and the use of mantras or affirmations. Here there is no thinking, just feeling. This state allows you to drop into primal birth.
Theta is the same brain wave you ride on when you experience high levels of arousal into a climax or multiple orgasms. The theta state often coincides with the stage of labor known as transition or transformation (when the cervix is dilating from 8 to 10 centimeters). For many, transition is a very challenging stage of labor. However, when we allow ourselves to surrender let our mind ride the waves, it can in fact, be pleasurable. During this stage of labor, you can feel pulled into the vortex of primal power, where your instincts take over.
Lastly, there are the delta brain waves, the divine. This state is characterized by a profound sense of euphoria and joy that is often accompanied by feelings of spiritual transcendence and bliss. Many people report feeling a connection to a higher power or a sense of oneness with the universe during this state. The state of ecstasy is often associated with the release of endorphins and other feel-good hormones in the body.
The delta state of consciousness that can occur during childbirth is the state of surrender. This state is characterized by a complete relinquishment of control and a deep trust in the birthing process. In this state, the birthing person is able to let go of any fear or anxiety and allow her body to do what it was designed to do. The state of surrender is often supported with relaxation techniques, such as massage, aromatherapy, and hypnotherapy.
How to enter altered states of consciousness during labor
We MUST have a sense of safety to disconnect from the outside world and sink into a relaxed state. Feeling unsafe will signal to your body that you need to be alert, and you will stay in the beta state of consciousness. In this state, it’s easier to feel anxiety, tension, and pain.
If you’re birthing in a hospital setting, remind your support team that you will need them to take the leading role in answering questions and advocating for your needs. For you to sink into an altered state of consciousness, you need to be able to relax and not be pestered with many questions. The more we are left undisturbed and able to go inward, the easier it will be to enter altered states of consciousness.
Our body has the blueprint for a transcendent birth experience. We need to create the conditions for a relaxed environment and cultivate a meditative practice that allows us to enter these states. During pregnancy, cultivating meditation and breathwork practice is essential. This can incorporate affirmations, mantras, relaxation tracks, guided meditation, or relaxing music. Take some time to figure out what methods feel best to you, and be sure you have a way to incorporate them during your birthing day.
It is important to note that not all people will experience these altered states of consciousness during childbirth. Each person's birthing experience is unique, and the way each person copes with the intensity of labor and delivery will be different. However, for those who do experience these altered states, they can be incredibly powerful and transformative.
The altered states of consciousness that can occur during childbirth are an important aspect of the birthing process. They can help the birthing person to manage the pain and intensity of labor and birth, and to connect with the profound spiritual and emotional aspects of childbirth. By understanding and embracing these altered states, we can create a more positive and empowering birthing experience for people everywhere.
Lastly, research has also shown that the experience of giving birth can lead to long-term changes in brain activity. Studies have found that people who have given birth exhibit changes in brain structure and function associated with increased empathy, social cognition, and nurturing behavior. Before you give yourself a hard time for having a “pregnancy brain,” remember your body is shifting to prepare you for parenthood. The way we step into parenthood is truly divine.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant for diagnosis or treatment. Use of this information should be done in accordance with your healthcare provider.
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Meet the Author
Clara O'Rourke (she hers),
Holistic Doula & Childbirth Educator.
I am a researcher turned total birth nerd with a passion for supporting people birth in their full power! I guide people through their pregnancy, labor, and postpartum journey by helping them overcome fear or anxiety about birth, providing evidence-based information so they can make informed decisions, and ensuring they have everything they need to birth with confidence. Birth is sacred and it should be treated that way. I am committed to providing support for birth and beyond, regardless of a person's background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or relationship status. También ofrezco mis servicios en español. I wish you and your growing family the brightest of beginnings!