Laughter in Labor

Having a good time in labor actually helps it progress. And why not be open to the possibility of enjoying yourself in labor? After all, it leads to the birth of your child — a momentous event worth celebrating!

Studies have shown laughter offers many health benefits, including:

  • helps manage pain – when muscles are tense, pain increases; this is why becoming skilled at relaxation is key to a less painful birth
  • lowers blood pressure – avoid additional interventions that may come with high blood pressure
  • increases muscle flexion – laughter results in loosening an overall rigid posture, and contracts the abdominals
  • enables the body to use more oxygen – every breath benefits your hard-working heart and lungs as well as your baby, who needs plenty of O2 to cope with labor
  • decreases stress – creates a barrier to the flow of stress hormones

In Relation To Birth Hormones

Throughout the birthing process, you need lots of endorphins and oxytocin. Smiling and laughing are ways to generate more of these labor workhorse hormones.

Laughter actually triggers a flood of endorphins, also known as “nature’s painkiller” — these are morphine-like compounds that help induce a sense of euphoria. Simply put, laughing feels good!

“For women who don’t use pain medication during labor, the level of endorphins continues to rise steadily and steeply through the birth of the baby. (Most studies have found a sharp drop in endorphin levels with use of epidural or opioid pain medication.)

High endorphin levels during labor and birth can produce an altered state of consciousness that can help you deal with the process of giving birth, even if it is long and challenging. High endorphin levels can make you feel alert, attentive and even euphoric (very happy) after birth, as you begin to get to know and care for your baby. In this early postpartum period, endorphins are believed to play a role in strengthening the mother-infant relationship. A drop in endorphin levels at this time may contribute to the ‘blues,’ or postpartum depression, that many women experience for a brief time after birth.” – Pathways to a Healthy Birth, Childbirth Connections

Shared laughter further deepens the bond between people, thereby increasing the flow of oxytocin, also known as “the love hormone.”

“Receptor cells that allow your body to respond to oxytocin increase gradually in pregnancy and then increase a lot during labor. Oxytocin stimulates powerful contractions that help to thin and open (dilate) the cervix, move the baby down and out of the birth canal, push out the placenta, and limit bleeding at the site of the placenta. During labor and birth, the pressure of the baby against your cervix, and then against tissues in the pelvic floor, stimulates oxytocin and contractions. So does a breastfeeding newborn.” – Pathways to a Healthy Birth, Childbirth Connections

Keep in mind, even forced smiles and laughter can do the trick! In this case, “fake it ‘til you make it” does have an impact on your brain’s perception of the scenario at play.

To maximize benefit of feel-good hormones, opt out of an epidural or opioids, or delay for as long as possible. These are known to significantly interfere with labor hormones (read more). Pitocin likewise has similar effect on normal hormone circulation. Do you know your natural induction/augmentation options? (That’ll be a post for another day…).

Early Labor: A Few Ideas

  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people — choose your birth team wisely!
  • In early labor, watch a funny movie or listen to a standup special.
  • Have your partner show you ridiculous memes for good belly-laughing.
  • For genuine smiles, partner can recount a heartwarming, happy story that you share together (maybe the story of your engagement or a memorable trip?).
  • This is prime time for those inside jokes! (Your birth team won’t judge you — promise).
  • Stay groovy! Dance, shimmy, drop it like it’s hot to music that makes your heart giddy. This discourages your body from tensing up and “resisting” labor sensations.
  • What brings YOU joy? Incorporate into your birth experience.

A humorous disposition can help you feel lighter, calmer, and generally more at ease. BUT (this is a big “but”), birth support people should hold off on the comedic repertoire when/if:

😬 you’re going through an “everyone shut up!” contraction

😬 you just received unexpected news

😬 you’re in a serious, concentrating phase

😬 you’re undergoing a painful or uncomfortable procedure

In Relation To The Throat

Did you know the throat is intimately connected to the birth canal? Think about it, they’re equals on opposite ends: esophageal sphincters on top, cervical sphincter on bottom; mucosal tissue mouth with lips on top, same on the bottom… you get the idea.

Maybe it sounds silly. But did you also know, keeping the throat open happens to encourage the cervix open as well? “As above, so below,” as they say…

Active Labor: A Few Ideas

So, real talk… not every contraction will make you smile. Moments may come when you find it impossible to laugh, to welcome the next contraction, or to notice much beyond your own “labor land.”

Try focusing on:

😮 Loosening the jaw

😮 Keeping the mouth wide

😮 Releasing breaths and low sounds (belly laughs are A+, as well as sexy-type moans)

…all of this sends a loosening, opening, release of energy to the pelvic area. Keep it up and soon enough you’ll have your baby!

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