We know that labour involves contractions but what are contractions?
Your baby grows inside your uterus, which contains long muscles. In labour, these muscles need to shorten, to open and dilate the cervix.
A contraction is the tightening of these uterus muscles which increase in frequency and intensity during labour and birth.
The hormone oxytocin affects the pace and strength of contractions throughout labour and birth. The cervix responds to the oxytocin by opening when it is ripe and ready for labour.
Oxytocin receptors across the uterus respond to the oxytocin by creating a contraction, which begins at the top of the uterus and then waves downwards.
What are contractions: pattern and pace
Every woman has their own pattern of contractions – typically they are about a minute long during established labour but this can vary, as can the pause in-between contractions.
While contractions need to be strong and regular to be effective, there isn’t one pattern that is correct.
Oxytocin is an essential part of labour and it has an influential role to play but it can also be influenced by different factors. This can inhibit the production of oxytocin:
- unfamiliar people and places
- an uncomfortable room
- being spoken to and asked questions
- bright lights and noise
- a busy room with interruptions
So what can boost oxytocin? This can help to create strong and effective contractions with a good dose of endorphins for pain relief:
- feeling safe and secure
- familiar people, places and things
- a comfortable, calm room where you can move as you need to
- quiet, eye contact and touch
- low lights and calm conversation
- being able to relax and focus
- using your breathing and relaxing your muscles
Tips for your contractions
- move to be more comfortable
- breathe for calm and focus, as well as to boost your oxytocin
- relax your muscles
- if you feel on edge, unsafe or you don’t know what is going on – you need to do something about it
- you might need familiar items with you – a scent, a blanket or pillow, your birth ball, a dressing gown
- you and your partner might need to make the room work better for you – softer lighting, music, quiet conversations with no interruptions
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