Is your phone on your “pack for labour” list?
You might want to re-think and switch it off altogether.
I’m always concerned about the number of women who post screenshots of their “contraction app” on social media and ask: “Do you think I should go to the hospital?”
There’s a saying that it is time to go to the hospital when you can’t remember your phone number so I always want to comment ; “If you have the presence of mind to take a screenshot, post it on facebook and respond to comments, then no! It is way too early to go to the hospital”.
Usually, I just point out that these apps use algorithms that assume all labours progress in the same way.
Every labour is different which is why I have said for years that you need to throw away the textbook (and now the apps) and write your own unique birth story.
But aside from my concerns about the apps themselves, there is another reason why you should put down your phone when labour starts. (Or even a couple of weeks before).
Did you know that melatonin is a hormone of labour?
I’m not surprised if you didn’t because I only learnt this when I heard Michel Odent speak at a conference in 2015.
There is a 2014 paper that looked at the importance of melatonin receptors in the pregnant uterus.
Michel Odent has obviously been pondering on the role of melatonin in labour since then.
So what is melatonin and why is this important for labour and birth?
You might know that melatonin is our “darkness’ or “sleep” hormone.
It is released in anticipation of sleep.
It helps us shut down our brain wave activities so that we can get to sleep and stay asleep.
It switches off our neocortex.
This is the aha moment!
To birth well, you need to get out of your thinking brain (the neocortex) because this inhibits the release of your birthing hormones.
Birth is not an intellectual process… it is an instinctive, physiological one.
The other thing melatonin does in labour is that it synergises with oxytocin.
This means it plays a role in producing efficient contractions (which I usually call surges).
Melatonin is also important for your baby.
Not only does having all your melatonin flowing mean that you are more likely to have a straightforward birth, which has enormous benefits for your baby.
But after birth, your baby is meant to have high levels of melatonin in his/her blood.
We know this has come from you releasing melatonin in labour because babies born by a booked/elective c-sections don’t have any melatonin in their blood.
This is another reason why some labour is always better than no labour.
The melatonin in your baby is there to help with the massive adaptation to life outside the womb that your baby needs to make after birth.
Great, but what has this got to do with phones?
Well, we now know that the blue light that phones emit switches off melatonin release.
Studies have looked at how this affects your sleep.
If you look at your phone at night, this switch off the melatonin that your brain is trying to release, your brain feels stimulated and this ruins your sleep.
So if your brain is trying to produce melatonin in labour (and actually a couple of weeks before labour) you can muck up its release by looking at your phone.
This means your labour will not be as efficient or as enjoyable as it is meant to be.
You need to switch off your neocortex to get your endorphins flowing too.
There is something else that inhibits melatonin release and that’s LED lights.
I hadn’t thought about this until I heard Michel Odent’s talk today.
(BTW the title was “Birth in the Age of Artificial Light”).
LED lights have a lot of blue light in them.
We know that birthing in dim lights helps labour but now we can understand why modern obstetric birthing environments are making matters worse.
So here are my tips for enhancing rather than inhibiting your melatonin release so that your body can get on with birthing.
1. Switch off your phone (and other screens).
You should actually do this at the end of your pregnancy as melatonin is starting to rise then.
One of the signs of this is that mum’s often become more forgetful in the last weeks of their pregnancy.
This is a sure sign that the neocortex isn’t as active as it once was.
You could invest in a blue light filter but switching off your phone has other benefits too.
You won’t be bombarded with “Have you had the baby yet?” texts, for one thing.
Michel Odent says women are meant to “Live in peace” before birth.
So switch off your phone and “Live in Peace”.
2. Turn off your lights in your home.
Especially LED lights.
And we should probably include TV’s here.
Again do this in your last couple of weeks of pregnancy for the full benefit.
You might also find you go to bed earlier as your body starts to respond today and night better.
And the more sleep you get right now the better.
3. Turn off the lights in your birthing environment.
This should go without saying but modern obstetric birthing environments are full of bright light.
Even though we have known forever that women birth better at night.
Hopefully, this new understanding of the role of melatonin will finally convince caregivers that the lights need to be dimmed.
4. Get out in the daylight in your last weeks of pregnancy and early labour.
I know this sounds counterproductive but remember we are talking about artificial light affecting melatonin.
Natural daylight produces serotonin in our brains and serotonin is a precursor for melatonin.
Once again we should bow down to the awesomeness of nature.
Nature really does have your back when it comes to birth.
It is when we mess with the physiological processes that we create most of the problems.
Disturbing melatonin release is just one of the things that we do, or are done in modern obstetric practices, that interfere with physiological birthing.