Sphincters are round muscle groups that are usually closed until something needs to pass through. Not only is it a fun word to say, it is also very important during labour.
Ina May describes Sphincter Law in her Guide to Childbirth. She says that “each sphincter’s job is to relax and expand so that it can comfortably and wide enough allow the passage of whatever must move through.”
When labour begins, the cervix softens. Contractions are the muscles opening your cervix. Your dilation is a measurement of the opening of the cervix as a result of that softening. Your cervix is a sphincter and is made to open enough through which to pass your baby from your uterus.
If you are tense, if you’re uncomfortable, feeling exposed, or being pressured to push before you’re ready, the softening of your cervix can stall, or tighten back up. Labour will slow down, and it can feel like a lot of work for nothing.
Trying to force a baby through the cervix before it’s ready puts a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor (a muscle that runs from your pubic bone to your tail bone and holds your organs in place) and can cause problems later on.
When you poop, your body is working in the same way. If you’re sitting in the bathroom, trying to force something, your body is tense and it seems like it takes forever. Your anus (another sphincter!) is fighting against your body.
These two processes share Sphincter Law. Obeying this law is the path of least resistance. Something as simple as taking a deep breath, relaxing your jaw, or saying to yourself, “Release,” can make things happen naturally and a little faster.
If you’re preparing for a vaginal birth, practice relaxing your sphincters. Give your sphincters a break, and let them do their jobs.
Does the word “sphincter” make you laugh or uncomfortable? Tell us which pregnancy-related words make you smile, or cringe, in the comments!