What actually is Labour?

When people talk about Labour the next phrase that comes up is ‘contractions’, followed quickly by the word, pain. Which is really not very helpful, when you are pregnant and are now committed to birth and therefore labour. I also wonder why would nature, with years and years of evolution design a system, where the continuation of the species requires an event to happen that is steeped in pain and therefore fear. It just doesn’t make sense. So, what is actually going on?

Quite simply labour is your body doing exercise.

What is exercise? it is your muscles contracting and releasing in harmony, whether this is your legs when you’re running, your arms when you’re swimming or your uterus when you are in labour.

Most muscles in our body work in pairs and your uterus is no exception. You have one set forming rings horizontally around your uterus and your cervix at the base, holding everything up and keeping baby safe, and another set running lengthways up and down your bump.

Now, for your baby to make its passage into the world, your horizontal muscles have to move out of the way, opening up to allow your baby to pass through. And this is what your vertical set of muscles help them to do. During labour, these muscles are working to gently pull the horizontal muscles up and out of the way.

It’s the same process as when you lift a shopping bag into the boot of your car. Your bicep muscle in your arm contracts to pull up the bag. And, at the same time your tricep muscle under your arm is relaxed, extends and releases to allow the bicep to pull up.

Labour is the muscles of your uterus working together to provide a exit route for your baby.

Now, ask any athlete and they will say that muscles work best when you are relaxed. Any tension, caused by trying too hard, or being fearful, results in your muscles having to work harder, expending more energy, causing you to tire more quickly, and feel a lot more uncomfortable. The uterus muscles are no exception. They will work at their optimum level, efficiently and effectively when you are relaxed.

What else? Muscles require a good supply of oxygen and nutrient rich blood. Remember when you’ve woken up the next day after doing an unfamiliar exercise, and a part of your body feels ‘sore’. This is because, your muscles didn’t get enough oxygen, so they had to work anaerobically, which releases lactic acid, which in turn leads to cramping and the build up of pain. Therefore, to avoid this your uterus muscles need a good supply of oxygen throughout labour to work comfortably.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? You now know that labour is your uterus muscles doing an exercise. And you know what they need to work effectively and comfortably. You know you need to be relaxed (not be fearful and tense) AND you need to breathe effectively so that they have a continuous rich supply of oxygen.

And just like athletes preparing for a event, you too can prepare for labour.

If you’re keen to understand more about what’s is happening in your body during labour, get prepared and would like some help with how, then check out my hypnobirthing courses.