Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Confident Birthing With Shining Light Prenatal Education: Ina May Gaskin's "Sphincter Law" & Childbirth


by Sarah Davis


I had never heard of Ina May Gaskin before taking the four week birthing class I've been blogging about with Shining Light Prenatal Education, taught by Deena Blumenfeld so it has been interesting to learn about her views about natural childbirth.  

In her book, Ina May's Guide to Natural Childbirth, she speaks of the "Sphincter Law" and why it is important for the mother to feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed in order to have an easier birth.  Fear causes us to tense up and as a result, our sphincters, in this case, the cervix, is less likely to open with ease. This is most easily understood when thinking about relieving yourself in the bathroom- would you feel comfortable with bright lights on you, a plethora of people you don't know surrounding you encouraging you to hurry up (with talks of "inducing labor" if you don't speed things up), or even shouting at you to, "push"? Deena brought up the Sphincter Law briefly in class, but I found it to be interesting, so I did a little more research and I thought I'd share.  

What is the Sphincter Law?

Ina May says that sphincters are the "circular muscles surrounding the opening of organs which are called upon to open themselves at appropriate times. These openings ordinarily remained closed but have the ability to open as widely as needed when necessary" 

Ina May says that sphincters open best in conditions of privacy and intimacy and during childbirth, in these circumstances, the cervix will open with less pain involved.

Ina May says that sphincters are shy and may suddenly close if the owner is frightened or embarrassed.  


She says that the ability to open sphincters with ease is directly related to how relaxed the mouth & jaw are.

She says that sphincters open easier if the owner is laughing or smiling.  

Sphincters respond well to praise from people you are close to. 

How can we apply this to childbirth? 

The mother should be as relaxed as possible and in a private environment.

The number of people in the room should be kept to the absolute bare minimum.  No large crowds. 

The mother should not be aware of any time limits or concerns in order to prevent her from feeling rushed.  

The mother should only hear positive affirmations from her partner, to ease her of any fears she may be having. The partner shouldn't encourage fear, rather praise the mother to give her confidence.  

When I learned about this, the first thing I thought was: how many women, when giving birth in a hospital, give birth in the exact environment Ina May advises against? An environment that causes a woman to be scared.  I also couldn't help but relate this (almost exactly) to A Course in Miracles, which says fear is a blockage WE create that prevents miracles from happening (which are meant to be naturally occurring). Childbirth, the miracle, can be slowed down by fear, so we should do everything we can to keep fear out of the equation when giving birth.  We may control fear with our minds, but we see the damage it does in how our bodies behave.  Environment plays a HUGE role in how relaxed and calm we are (rather than being in a state of fear or anxiety), which is why I was so interested in the Sphincter Law.  Think about trying to pee in the middle of a haunted house, with adrenaline pumping through your veins and feeling as though you have no control of what might enter into your environment. (Editor's Note: I know that sounds like a hellish place to pee, but for some women, the thought of childbirth can be that scary.) Could you do it? Now picture trying to get something so intense as a baby, and placenta, out.  

This is where it becomes important to really plan out ways to make a hospital room, if you are giving birth in a hospital, comfortable for you with things like a playlist of music you love, pillows from home, scents that soothe you. I even wrote myself an empowering note that I plan to keep in my hospital bag of reasons why I know I can get through birth. It also shows the importance of taking the the time to tour your hospital ahead of giving birth and thinking about who you want in the room with you.  

From Ina May's Guide to Natural Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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