I first read the term, fetal ejection reflex and was very confused about what it could mean. It sounded more like a fatal bowel obstruction than something I thought related to birth. If you are as confused as I was, you’ll be happy to know you may actually have heard about this phenomenon without realizing it.
Have you ever heard or read comments from birthing Mamas along the lines of “the baby just flew out” or “I didn’t even have to push and there she was!”? This is essentially what the fetal ejection reflex is. If you’re curious about how this happens and a deeper dive into what it is or if it’s possible for you, then stick around!
- What is Fetal Ejection Reflex?
- When Does the Fetal Ejection Reflex Occur?
- How Could You Trigger the Fetal Ejection Reflex?
- Are there Benefits or Drawbacks to the Fetal Ejection Reflex?
Table of Contents
What is Fetal Ejection Reflex?
In simple terms, the Fetal Ejection Reflex or FER, occurs when a birthing woman’s body involuntarily pushes the baby out without forced or active pushing. Similar to natural bodily functions like peeing, pooping, sneezing, or breathing, FER is a reflex. Just as our body instinctively knows how to create a baby, it is capable, if allowed, of birthing on its own terms within two to three intense contractions.
You can see this here in a video. *Viewer discretion advised, as it is active labor.
The Science of the Fetal Ejection Reflex
The term “fetal ejection reflex” originated during Niles Newton’s research on what effect the environment had on birthing mammals, specifically on birthing mice.
In the 1980’s a gynecologist by the name of Michel Odent, an advocate for homeopathic and home births, connected Newton’s findings to women.
So what were the studies?
Well, Niles was testing the environment and what effect fear and stress had on mammals. She found that when the mammals were disturbed in early labor, especially through a lack of privacy, stress hormones would shut down early labor, and the fetal ejection reflex would not occur. However, an interesting phenomenon occurred when birth was close, that same surge of catecholamines or stress hormones would take place, with a different result. The fetal-ejection reflex occurred. Allowing the mother to quickly birth her baby(ies) and then move to safety.
What does this mean for humans then? According to Odent, we, like other mammals, need to feel both safe and protected to give birth easily. If we do not feel safe and protected in early labor, catecholamine levels rise and labor “shuts down.”
When Does the Fetal Ejection Reflex Occur?
So when does Fetal Ejection Reflex occur? The Fetal Ejection Reflex typically takes place during the transition stage of labor, when the cervix is fully dilated to 10 cm. The birthing Mama may even experience a sort of stupor or a sleep-like state between contractions – the calm before the storm. There’s often no predetermined timeline for when our bodies are ready for the involuntary pushing; it could happen within minutes or hours as the baby begins its descent. If the mother remains undisturbed and switches off her “thinking” brain, her body can take over.
During this period, our bodies operate in a loop, releasing oxytocin to facilitate the birthing process. As the baby pushes on the birth canal, more oxytocin is released. This cycle continues, and as the baby descends further, more oxytocin is released. While this is happening we may feel a surge of adrenaline or feeling to push. This special mix of hormones along with the birthing environment triggers that ejection reflex.
Some women may express things like “I can’t do this,” “give me an epidural,” or feel a lack of control. It is common during this time for women to instinctively begin to change positions, moving onto hands and knees, turning over, or making guttural noises. This is often when the body is taking over, and you feel an involuntary need to push and bear down. From what I researched, within two to three very powerful contractions the baby is born and even forcibly ejected.
If you’re curious about some of the natural signs leading to labor, read our article here.
How Could You Trigger the Fetal Ejection Reflex?
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you can trigger the reflex even if you have the “key” criteria set up. The best chance there is, according to Michel Odent’s research, is for Mothers to have a calm private environment in the early stages of labor with little to no interruption possible, so as not to trigger the “flight or fight” symptom too early.
Avoiding environmental disturbances like:
- Eye to eye contact
- Vaginal exams
- Too bright of lights
- A cold room
- And even use of rational language (like you’re dilated to __ amount, or baby is in __position)
The ideal includes:
- A dark room
- No one around that the mother doesn’t want
- A very low profile healthcare worker (not loud or bossy etc.)
- And avoidance of verbal communication or vaginal exams unless mother initiates while kept to minimum or absolutely necessary
From the many doula and other sites I found, fetal ejection reflex did seem to occur when the mother felt safe in a quiet dark environment and was emotionally and physically supported, just as Odent’s research suggested. Or the reflex occurred in the opposite, like when we hear of women delivering on the side of the road or in an ambulance. With the research we can see how the “flight or fight mode” of getting your baby out and then to safety could take over the body, thus“ejecting” the baby quickly, as shown in this video below.
Considering a doula? Read our article on the 13 best interview questions to ask a doula to guide you in choosing the best doula for your birth.
Are There Benefits or Drawbacks to the Fetal Ejection Reflex?
Are there any benefits to the fetal ejection reflex? It’s hard to know if there are. As you can’t predict or guarantee that you can make the reflex happen. It could be a benefit or win if you don’t have endless labor and pushing. That would certainly have been a big win in my book!
If the reflex occurs, many women say that they had little to no tearing. Which for many of us, would be seen as a huge benefit!
It seems that the way to induce this reflex leans heavily on a home birth, which may not be an option for many pregnant women. However, even if you are planning a hospital birth, you could try to labor at home in your own environment for as long as possible. That would likely reduce the incidence of cervical checks and that rational language. It would also likely include less laying in bed, bright lights, and cold environments.
If you have had an uncomplicated pregnancy and you would like to labor unmedicated, you could consult with your healthcare provider and team, to see if this is something you want to try.
If however, there have been complications with your pregnancy or you are still worried about something happening in a home birth, a hospital setting will likely be where you deliver. However, consult with your healthcare provider and discuss ways you can make the hospital room a more peaceful environment.
Remember you have the right to refuse medical treatment (see our article about consent), such as cervical exams if you desire. By discussing with your partner, doula, or other person on your team ahead of time, you can ensure that your wishes are being carried out during labor. They can advocate for you, when your attention is elsewhere. just because you labor at a hospital does not rule out that the reflex will occur.
Ask questions like:
- Can I turn the lights off? Or when would they have to come on?
- Can I turn the heat up so that it is warmer in my room?
- How can you minimize interruptions or vaginal exams?
- What about access to a birthing tub?
- What is the policy on music?
By getting informed and finding what will work for you, you may be able to mimic and create an environment where you feel that support and safety.
Fetal Ejection Reflex is an amazing phenomenon that occurs to some women when giving birth. Their body can take over and do what women have been doing for centuries. Perhaps through a safe and peaceful environment, we can induce this reflex. But whether you experience fetal ejection reflex in birth or not, it will not take away from you and baby and bonding together. Nor does it lessen the fact that you have birthed a baby. Whether it’s medicated or unmedicated, home or hospital birth, you have done an amazing job getting that little one here.
Niki Cowan has a background in Medicine and Public Health. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist as well as a Medical Assistant. She’s passionate about Women’s Health and empowering women in their journeys. She is married to her wonderful husband Kevin, and they have an active son. While trying to have another little one hasn’t worked out yet, she is pursuing her passions and hoping to gain further education and experience in the area she loves, while playing with her son. She’s an avid reader, Original Great British Baking Show watcher, and very amateur kickboxer.