The term ‘home advantage’ originates in team sports (also called home field/court/diamond/ice advantage). In team sports, the home or hosting team is considered to have a significant advantage over the visitors. It describes the advantage – usually a psychological advantage, but may include any number of physical advantages, that the home team is said to have over the visiting team as a result of playing in familiar territory and in front of supportive fans.
So, you may be wondering how this term applies to homebirth. Here it is in a nutshell:
The warm familiar home territory and freedom to choose your own birth options, allows for a ‘safe and secure’ response which releases endorphins creating a sense of well being and providing natural pain relief. Just the opposite is true of the cold unfamiliar territory of a hospital facility setting, which triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that releases excess adrenaline potentially stalling labor and creating tension and pain.
Now there is also a biological explanation for these responses. Inside of you is an extraordinary system that either excites you or sedates you. It’s your nervous system. If your nervous system is excited to the extreme it causes stress, anxiety, tension, and pain. If it’s sedated to the extreme it causes you to be tranquilized. But if it’s just right, you relax and become calm. Relaxing is the natural response of your body calming down. And when you calm down you feel better, with less tension and pain, especially during active labor.
THERE ARE TWO PARTS TO YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM:
1. SYMPATHETIC SYSTEM
2. PARASYMPATHETIC SYSTEM
The sympathetic signals the fight or flight response. It’s the ancient response of your human body to preserve its own life from danger, or perceived danger. You literally inherited it from your ancestors. It’s also called the stress response. The fight or flight response makes us feel on alert, anxious and scattered. Thankfully, it’s an excellent reaction to have when there’s a real emergency. The fight or flight response, also called the stress response, kicks in when:
* YOUR LIFE OR WELLBEING (OR THAT OF A LOVED ONE) IS IN DANGER OR
* YOU SENSE YOUR LIFE OR WELLBEING (OR THAT OF A LOVED ONE) IS BEING THREATENED
Your nerves send data to the brain saying, “Danger. Threat to our life or wellbeing.” The brain fires off commands. Hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and others flood your entire body. Your whole body is charged with energy so that you can take action to preserve your life: you are on alert to either fight or take flight..
Next enter your parasympathetic nervous system. This part of your nervous system turns on the relaxation response. And it turns off the fight or fight switch. Your external environment can also be perceived as safe. When you feel safe and secure, your nerves send data to the brain saying, “Our life is not in danger. We are safe.” Literally, hormones flood the body. These hormones, dopamine, endorphins and more, calm and sedate the body.
The relaxation response brings feelings of being unified and coming together. During childbirth, a safe and familiar environment such as your home, can invoke this safe and secure response. This is the basis for our reference to the Home Advantage during labor and birth.
To fully appreciate the value of the Home Advantage in childbirth, we must also look closely at the opposite side, the unfamiliar territory, of which we may, or may not, plan to visit as our birth location.