Why does labour start at night?

Is it true that most women go into labour at night – and if so why?

It would seem that the majority of our “first timer” doula clients do indeed start labouring in the late evening and it may well be that it is caused by a surge of “melatonin” – often leading to a birth in the early morning.

This fabulous hormone interacts with oxytocin to promote contractions, and melatonin is the hormone that is responsible for encouraging us to go to sleep!  So clearly it reaches it’s peak during the dark hours, making us more likely to go start contracting in the evening. Melatonin doesn’t just help trigger labour but also helps our uterine muscles to work more effectively during the final stages of birth – and who doesn’t want a shorter labour?

If you have attended any antenatal classes you will recall that you are advised to birth in the dark away from artificial light wherever possible, to try and maintain high levels of melatonin.  This is because melatonin production is disturbed by “blue light” – so a labouring woman can tolerate candle or fire light, but not the lights we see typically in an institutional setting such as hospitals.  Of course this is another great reason to turn off iPhones and televisions whilst you are birthing!

I recall walking into a beautiful birth centre with a client who was labouring strongly.  She had laboured at home overnight and her wonderful partner had blacked out windows when the sun began to rise.  When they transferred to the unit she wore dark glasses to avoid the suns glare.  As we were welcomed into her birth room I sadly noticed that there was no way for us to block out the daylight which flooded into the room –  and not surprisingly, although her contractions continued regularly they didn’t appear to become more powerful.

Fortunately it was a bright winters day, so I knew the sun would set at around 4:30 – and sure enough, she breathed through her surges until 5:00pm when their strength suddenly increased and her baby was born beautifully into a darkened room at 5:30pm.

So when preparing for labour – be sure to add another “responsibility” to your partners list – they need to be prepared to help you create the best environment for giving birth so remind them to TURN OFF THE LIGHTS!

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