If you're one of the many first-time moms out there, you might have been bombarded with horror stories about the whole process. No doubt you’ve watched TV and movies that make birth seem scary and hard.
And even if it's not your first pregnancy, don't you just wish there was an easier way to give birth? Like nobody has to do anything and the baby comes out of your uterus as an involuntary process?
Actually, there is such a thing where you can be calm; no nurse has to tell you to “push”, and you give birth. It's called the fetus ejection reflex or the FER.
In this article, let's take a closer look at what it is, why it's actually good for you when you're giving birth, and how you can experience it.
Why I am here and who I am:
Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama. I am a labor and delivery nurse with over 16 years of high-risk OB experience. And I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6! My professional and personal experiences allowed me to labor thousands of mamas and delivered many, many babies.
I am the online birth class creator and educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes. And the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society Mama Membership Community! I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey! You can find me over on IG teaching over 240k mamas daily.
Important Note: We make a small commission from some of the links (you don’t pay any more for using our links); however some of the recommendations, we do not earn anything; we love ’em and want you to know about them. Click here for our full disclosure. Thank you!
What is the fetal ejection reflex?
The fetal ejection reflex AKA spontaneous pushing, is when your body expels or releases your baby involuntarily, without forced pushing. Women have compared it to the urge to sneeze, so when it happens, you can't do anything about it. Who here wants to just sneeze and boom, baby is out?
Niles Newton introduced the term back in the 1960s. At that time, she studied the environment's effects on mammals giving birth and eventually focused on mice in particular. She was searching for factors that made labor longer and harder, such as:
- The mother is in an unfamiliar place with many environmental disturbances, such as strange sights, smells, and sounds.
- The mother is moved from one place to another during the actual birthing period
- Putting the mother mouse in a transparent cage and being observed – think of yourself being placed in an aquarium and being observed and recorded with cameras.
She observed that the mice that gave birth in a place where they feel safe and had privacy did give birth quickly and easily.
And in the 1980s, Michel Odent, a French researcher, obstetrician, and advocate of natural birth, suggested that FER was possible for humans as well. After all, we are mammals too!
When does the fetal ejection reflex occur?
FER occurs during the transition stage of labor once your cervix is fully dilated. It gets triggered because of high levels of stress hormones or adrenaline. Right before this happens, you might be in a sleep state between surges, where your neocortex or the so-called ‘thinking brain' are turned off.
The adrenaline in your bloodstream will wake you up and make you alert. And the powerful contractions you experience will push the baby down onto your cervix, sending signals to the brain to release oxytocin. Your baby then moves down into the birth canal, stimulating nerves in the pelvis, and even more oxytocin surges.
The result? You birth the baby quickly, without you doing any active pushing.
Fetal Ejection Reflex Triggers
You and other women may experience FER if:
You are undisturbed, feel safe and supported, and are uninterrupted by any disruption of the fetal ejection reflex such as any noise, lights, or unwanted eye contact.
Consequently, it can also happen if:
- You feel something is threatening in your current birth environment, but you're already close to giving birth. It's safer and easier to give birth than if you stop the labor.
- You feel afraid for your baby's safety in the second stage of labor, and you are close to giving birth.
However, do take note that FER is very rare in hospital settings.
Aside from lacking privacy, you may lose your inhibitions and behave emotionally just before FER happens. Your OB or your medical staff (aka labor nurses) may interfere by talking loudly or at all, making you feel confused, or disturbing your birth space, so FER will not happen.
Also, according to Do Not Disturb: The Importance of Privacy in Labor – PMC, when you do feel threatened, it may also be possible that your body will send out the stress hormone catecholamine, which shuts down the natural process.
FER doesn't get triggered as a result.
What to do if you begin to spontaneously bear down but don’t want to push yet?
When this is happening, just let it happen and don't resist. Instead, focus on breathing with it. Just believe your body knows its thing – you don't need to help it, don't fight it.
Why it is essential to take a childbirth class for unexpected events
Even if you are hoping for FER, such as opting for home birth instead of going to the hospital, it's still better to be prepared. For example, did you know that FER can occur before you are completely 10 cm dilated?
My birth classes will equip you with the knowledge you need that you won't get out of your friends' stories, watching videos, or reading books. My goal is to prepare you as much as possible to be able to have your best birth.
Learn How to Follow Your Instincts by Pushing
When you are in labor or giving birth, trust your instincts. Take a few deep breaths when the contraction builds so you can gear up for pushing. And when you push, you can hold your breath or exhale – whatever feels right to you. (Here is a podcast all about this)
Do what comes naturally, and you'll deliver your baby.
Why I am Angry at Women Being Told to STOP PUSHING
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a baby is about to come out, and the staff says STOP pushing. This happens a lot!
96% of women will give birth in a medical facility where they will be subjected to intrusive and invasive procedures by people they barely know. Sounds daunting. It doesn't have to be. I empower my students and members in my pregnancy/postpartum membership to know how to advocate for and to understand their rights. Combining this with the knowledge you gain from your birth class, you can have an absolutely amazing birth in a hospital!
What to Do Instead: Be prepared and learn to push
Remember that physiological birth is an involuntary process – it doesn't happen as a voluntary action, like simply turning on the light switch. The best way to give birth and for FER to happen is when you feel safe, respected, and supported.
Fetal ejection reflex happens when your “primitive brain” (the part of the brain that controls basic functions) is in charge and not your “neocortex” (the part of the brain that controls language and thought).
Ways to help it happen:
🙌🏽 privacy is protected
🙌🏽 entry to the room is guarded
🙌🏽 strangers kept away
🙌🏽 information is filtered before reaching you
🙌🏽 questions are fielded
🙌🏽 interruptions limited
🙌🏽 intrusions minimized
And when you are safe and calm, your body will likely work as it should. Remember to follow your instincts combined with education (we give all our birth class students our pushing class, Purposeful Positioning for free as a bonus) when it comes to your birth, and you'll be able to give birth in a way that makes you happy!