How does relaxing your jaw help you have a baby?

If you have attended my Hypnobirthing Australia classes you will know that we talk about how a relaxed jaw equals a relaxed pelvis. Which is exactly what we want during labour and birth. After all, it is much easier to get a baby out through a relaxed pelvic floor than a tense one.

But where did this idea come from?

Ina May Gaskin and the Sphincter Law.


Ina May Gaskin, arguably one of the most well-known names in birth and midwifery circles, talks about the ‘Sphincter Law’.

Sphincters are involuntary muscles that don’t get tired (unlike other muscles). These circular muscles surround the opening of organs that are required to empty themselves at the appropriate time, of urine, faeces, and babies. With this in mind, the urethra, anus, vagina, and cervix are all sphincters, in that they are all closed until the point of urgency when the sphincters relax, allowing whatever is in to come out.  

The catch is – sphincters are shy! And they don’t function properly under tension.

Imagine someone standing at the toilet door telling you to ‘come on, just poo – hold your breath and push your poo out’. Doesn’t make for the best toilet experience, does it?

According to Gaskin;


  • Sphincters open best in conditions of privacy and intimacy
  • Sphincters open best without time limits
  • Sphincters are not under the voluntary control of their owner. They do not obey orders, such as ‘urinate now!’, ‘push!’, or ‘poop!’
  • Sphincters, however, do respond well to praise if there happens to be another person in the proximity of the sphincter’s owner. This other person might be the mother of a toddler or a midwife assisting a woman giving birth.
  • The opening of sphincters can be facilitated by laughter (the owner’s)
  • When the person’s sphincter is in the process of opening, it may suddenly close if that person becomes frightened, upset, embarrassed, or self-conscious. This is because high levels of adrenaline in the bloodstream do not favour (sometimes they actually prevent) the opening of the sphincters.
  •  The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix, vagina and the anus to open to full capacity. A relaxed and open mouth favours a more open vagina and cervix.

In other words, we need to feel safe, secure and private and have a relaxed jaw to allow our cervix and vagina to open to their full capacity – and help us birth our baby.

Myofascial Lines


Myofascial lines are the major chains of connective tissue that we use every time we move. They connect all the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue from our head to our toes.

There are 12 major myofascial lines (although they are all connected in some way). Within each line or group, tension in one muscle creates pulling or tension in another – kind of like dominos falling. Tension on one end of the myofascial line creates tension all the way at the other end of the line.

Whilst they can all impact each other, the major myofascial line coming into play here is the deep front line.

The deep front line extends all the way from your foot, through your calf, inner thigh, front of your hip, through your pelvic floor, front of your spine, core, up through your thoracic cavity all the way to your jaw and bottom of your skull.

So, keeping in mind that domino effect – when there is tension in your jaw, this will create tension in your pelvis (and all the way down to your feet).

The Deep Front Line


 Fear, tension, pain and the jaw


Whenever we feel stress, anxiety, fear, pain or anger, it is a normal physiological response to clench your jaw, buttocks or pelvic floor. You may even notice yourself grinding your teeth during times of stress. We need to learn to release that tension once the situation has passed – or even to help us through it. Next time you feel yourself starting to get tense, angry, or anxious make an effort to relax your jaw and take note of what it does to your response to the situation.

In his book Childbirth Without Fear, Grantly Dick-Read used the phrase Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. That is when we feel fear, our natural response is to create tension in our body (to clench your jaw and pelvic area), which can then give rise to pain, which can create more fear and on it goes.

How does this relate to birth?

In labour, if you experience any fear or anxiety, the automatic reaction of clenching or holding tension often takes over. This can cause the circular muscles of your uterus and around your cervix to constrict (remember Ina May’s Sphincter law?), all the while the longitudinal muscles of your uterus continue to work, thus creating a situation where you have muscles working against each other instead of with each other. It can also disrupt the hormones of birth such as endorphins (nature’s pain relief) and oxytocin (the hormone of pleasure). If you are clenching your jaw, it also becomes much harder to breathe deeply – meaning oxygen to those muscles decreases, which can create more tension and pain – just think about how difficult it is to run when you’re not breathing properly.


Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle; Grantly Dick-Read

Techniques to relax your jaw.


Tongue positioning – rest your tongue lightly behind your front upper teeth. Now that you have done that, try and clench your jaw at the same time – it becomes almost impossible! Try and get in the habit of resting your tongue here throughout the day, so that by the time it comes to your birth it is almost second-nature.

Breathing – while resting your tongue behind your front upper teeth, take a long slow deep breath in through your nose, breathing all the way down to your belly, then a long, slow deep breath out. By focusing on your breathing, and taking long deep breaths in through your nose, your jaw will open and relax, which will also help your pelvis relax.

Sing, sigh, and hum – each of these will help you open and release tension in your jaw.

Have your birth partner stroke your jaw. Sometimes the simple act of stroking your jaw can be the prompt you need to release and relax your jaw, without having to say the word relax.

Yoga poses – that integrate the pelvic floor and jaw including cat-cow or deep squatting (like if you were needing to go to the toilet over a hole in the ground).

Simply bringing awareness to your body throughout the day is a great start.


So whether it helps you as you go about your everyday life; in the bathroom when needing to poo or during your labour; remember – a relaxed jaw equals a relaxed pelvis!


Understanding Birth and Sphincter Law

From Psychoprophylactic to Orgasmic Birth; Hotelling, B. The Journal of Perinatal Education; 2009 Fall; 18(4); 45-48


Kate Vivian is a Mum of three and pregnancy and birth geek who helps Mums-to-be find their voice during their own pregnancy and birth.

After a less than fantastic birth of her first baby that ended in a caesarean section, she realised that having a positive birth was all about being empowered to make your own decisions. Kate went on to have two incredible, positive vaginal births after caesarean (VBAC) having found her own voice.

Regardless of the journey you walk during your pregnancy, Kate will be your biggest cheerleader. She will be the voice behind your voice as you walk your journey with confidence.

To find out more about Kate, check her out here.