The Good ol’ Thinking Brain

Posted by on Nov 30, 2015 in Writings

The Good ol’ Thinking Brain

One of the most essential things in meeting the basic needs of a woman in labour is to ensure that her thinking brain or her neocortex is well and truly switched off and understimulated.

What is the neocortex?

Simply put, it is our ‘thinking brain’ and is the most newly developed part of the brain. In humans, it is very developed and makes it possible for us to do all the wonderful things that make us human. Unfortunately, it also makes it much harder for us (as opposed to other mammals) to allow labour to just happen…our thinking brain tends to stand in the way of oxytocin (the love hormone and the hormone that makes that uterus contract) flowing freely.

The thinking brain needs to switch off

One of the prime ingredients for shy oxytocin to take effect is that the thinking brain needs to switch off. We need to make sure that the labouring woman’s thinking brain is not stimulated.

We stimulate the neocortex during labour by talking to the labouring woman about logical things, such as telling her how many centimetres dilated she is, or asking her to remember when her waters broke. We stimulate her neocortex with these observations and questions, and as a result, we slow down her release of oxytocin.

A woman needs to be able to slowly fall into her labour (like falling asleep) and not be ‘woken up’ by the outside world. If she can be given the space to switch off her neocortex, oxytocin will be able to do its job.

No observers

Feeling observed also stimulates the neocortex, so it is important that the mother does not feel watched. Observers and unnecessary people make the mother feel observed. Cameras can also slow labour down because they can make a mother feel observed which will “wake her up.”


It is important that there are no bright lights around a labouring woman. Drawn curtains, candles and other forms of dim lighting, will help to suppress the thinking brain and aid in the stimulation of oxytocin.


The labouring woman needs to be warm. A fire or a heater or warm water is helpful in relaxing her body and her neocortex. In fact, immersing herself in warm water at the right time (when she is in established active labour) can relax the mother so much that her cervix will dilate completely.

The ideal birth attendant

The ideal birth attendant understands that talking and asking questions will stimulate the labouring mother’s neocortex. Therefore, she keeps talking to a minimum and will try to answer as many questions as possible on behalf of the labouring mother. This way the mother doesn’t need to be ‘woken up’ from her labour.

The ideal birth attendant knows that bright lights stimulate the neocortex and so she makes sure that the lights are dimmed or off or that the curtains are drawn during the day.

The ideal birth attendant knows that the labouring mother needs to be warm in order to relax and for her oxytocin to release and flow. She makes sure that the room is sufficiently heated and knows that a warm shower or bath can work very well as a form of pain relief.