Birth Explained: The Beauty of Biology

How does birth work? Learn how the mind and body work together during labor to open up for your baby. It’s a beautiful process, and one you can learn to trust.

  • How birth is designed and how hormones and other body systems work in labor.
  • The importance of support and emotional safety during birth.
  • That your body is amazing!
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Terms in this Chapter

when the muscles of the uterus tighten and then relax to help push the baby out during labor


a trained professional who provides physical, emotional and informational support before, during and shortly after birth (birth doula) or in the postpartum period (postpartum doula). Doulas with full-spectrum training may also support people during and after pregnancy loss or abortion. Doulas do not have medical training, are not medically licensed, and do not provide medical advice.


a group of hormones made in the brain that, when released, reduce pain and increase relaxation as contractions grow stronger


making milk in the breasts, and/or feeding a baby from the chest.


the hormone produced by your body that helps labor progress, reduces blood loss after birth, and is involved in bonding and lactation after birth


a bodily response to maintain health or promote normal function


a medication, chemically the same as the hormone oxytocin, used to cause or strengthen contractions at the time of childbirth


a trained healthcare professional who diagnoses patients and provides treatment. Includes doctors, midwives, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants.


the hormone produced by your body that softens the joints in your pelvis to make them flexible and give room for the baby

Skin-to-skin contact

a practice where the newborn baby is dried and placed on the birthing individual’s chest right after labor, without clothing or a blanket in-between

Support people

anyone in the pregnant person’s life whose purpose is to physically or emotionally support them

Birth plan

a plan listing the birthing individual’s preferences during labor, such as medical interventions, options for pain relief, and labor positions

Birthing person

the person who will give birth to the baby. See also birthing person; pregnant person

Cesarean birth

a surgical procedure (used instead of vaginal birth) to deliver a baby by cutting into the abdomen and the uterus. Also known as a C-section

Cord clamping

putting a clamp on the baby’s umbilical cord after birth before cutting the cord to separate the baby from the placenta. Also known as umbilical cord clamping.

Culturally aligned care

care that honors and integrates a person’s cultural identity and preferences, provided by people who share the culture or are knowledgeable and respectful of the culture


to open. Typically the birthing person’s cervix will begin dilating in the last weeks of pregnancy; in labor the cervix will dilate to about 10 cm to let the baby out.


a medicine injected through the birthing person’s back into a space near the spine to numb the pain of childbirth. Once an epidural is given, the birthing individual generally does not have feeling in the lower half of their body.


when a provider makes a cut to widen the opening of your vagina for a difficult birth


happening during pregnancy or related to pregnancy


to intentionally start the birthing process by using medications or devices instead of your body’s and baby’s physiological processes, to begin labor. An induced labor is also called induction.


IV is short for “intravenous” which means in your veins. Tubes or needles can be put into your veins at medical facilities to provide food, fluids or medicine when needed.

Labor position

a way to position yourself during labor or to give birth, such as standing, side-lying, squatting, and kneeling


a licensed healthcare professional trained to provide reproductive and primary care including care during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. Midwives specialize in low-risk pregnancies and well-person care, and may collaborate with physicians and other healthcare providers in the care of people who need advanced medical care or surgery.


a way of being that helps you slow down, observe your emotions, and be more aware of your thoughts and feelings.


an acronym that stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a location in some hospitals where babies who need special medical attention can receive it

Nitrous oxide

medicine you breathe in for pain relief and relaxation. Also known as “laughing gas”


OB is short for obstetrician and GYN is short for gynecologist. An obstetrician is a healthcare professional who delivers babies and provides pregnancy-related care, while a gynecologist is a healthcare professional who specializes in vaginal care and reproductive health


strong medication offered for pain relief