Power Poses for Childbirth?

January 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm

About a week ago, I saw a TED Talk video that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. In this 20-minute video, Amy Cuddy shares a “free, no-tech life hack.” Her research on body language demonstrates that we can infuse ourselves with greater confidence and serenity in the face of a challenging situation simply by changing body positions. She calls them “power poses.” Here’s the video, if you’re interested. Totally worth your time.

Here are some sample high and low power poses:


Amy Cuddy says that taking certain stances/poses can actually decrease the body’s cortisol levels while low-power poses can heighten cortisol levels. They verified this through some fascinating research experiments and measured the participants’ cortisol levels before and after assuming a variety of postures for a set period of time. The people who were randomly assigned to the “power poses” showed significant decreases in their cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. When the brain perceive’s a threat, adrenaline and cortisol are released–adrenaline spikes quickly while cortisol offers a longer-term support in the face of stress. Power poses seem to help the brain to identify that “fight or flight” is not called for in that moment.

Women at the end of their pregnancies actually have naturally elevated cortisol levels. “In the last weeks before birth, cortisol levels are two to three times higher than normal. These levels are high—in the same range as cortisol levels found in people with major melancholic depression and Cushing’s syndrome (a hormonal disorder associated with a variety of health problems and psychological disturbances)” (Source). But this is a good thing. Those elevated cortisol levels seem to help prepare the fetus’s lungs for life outside the womb and prepare the mother’s brain for motherhood. Postpartum women with higher cortisol levels show “more positive maternal behavior towards infants, an increased liking for their infants’ body odors, and an enhanced ability to distinguish their babies’ odors from those of other infants” (Source).

At first I thought power poses might help women in labor. But now I’m not sure what to think. If power poses can help give the brain a signal that “fight or flight” is not called-for, perhaps they would help a laboring woman to remain calm. Adrenaline and noradrenaline actually inhibit labor progress when a women is in the first stage of labor. They also “reduce blood flow to the uterus and placenta, and therefore to the baby” (Source). I’d be curious to know whether a person’ adrenaline levels would decrease or increase after using a “power pose.” If power poses could reduce adrenaline levels, that would be a plus for childbirth. Laboring women often feel vulnerable and powerless, so taking a “power pose” stance may give her strength and confidence to face the tasks before her. But would decreasing her cortisol levels in labor be a good or bad thing? I really don’t know.

Have you taken any of these power stances in labor, either intentionally or unintentionally? Do you think they helped?