While trawling my usual news sources, I came across this post detailing what humans shouldn’t do while their pet cat is in labour. If you’ve ever had a pregnant cat or dog or lived on a farm, you’re probably already familiar with at least some of the advice this vet is dispensing.  Here’s a few tidbits, in case you’re a tad rusty on your animal husbandry.

While she is delivering keep her area quiet, calm and dimly lit. Don’t become involved in the birthing unless you are certain that you are needed. It is quite common for the mother to sit with her mouth open and yowl loudly or pace the room. As her labor progresses and uterine contractions begin, pregnant cats will lay on their sides and intermittently squat and press downward to expel the kittens. Do not interrupt or disturb the mother during these periods – just watch from a door left ajar.

The mother will also chew off the umbilical cord at this time. It is important to let the mother do these things herself if she is willing, because through licking and mothering the kitten she bonds with it, and recognizes it as her infant. It also helps her to let down her milk. The mother cat will probably begin nursing the kitten before the next kitten arrives. If she doesnt, place the kitten on one of her nipples. The nursing will stimulate her uterus to contract further.

Don’t panic, I’m not going to tell you that you should be able to birth a litter of four in an hour like a cat, before severing the cord with your teeth.  And you’d be perfectly entitled to wonder at this point how a whelping cat is going to help you have a natural birth. So its time for a brief biology lesson about your hormones in labour – I promise it won’t be too boring.

We humans actually share something significant with cats and dogs were all placental mammals. Amongst other things, this means we grow our babies attached to placentas, we give birth to them from the vagina after uterine contractions, and we have boobs that we can use to breastfeed. We also share a part of the brain, called a neocortex.

The neocortex controls learning and intelligence (which is why, by the way, cats are so awesome and know everything). In humans, the neocortex also controls language, spatial awareness, conscious thought and all the other stuff that wasn’t mission critical when we were back in the cave. During labour, the neocortex takes a back seat to our primal brain. Our primal brain is the oldest part of the human brain in evolutionary terms; the engine room for our hormones, emotions, and involuntary functions like breathing and falling asleep. For our purposes, it controls the release of hormones that sustain labour, help us cope with labour pain, and birth our babies instinctively.

Three of the key ingredients in this good old-fashioned hormonal soup are:

Oxytocin

The love hormone. Responsible for orgasm, those warm fuzzy feelings we feel towards our babies, contracting the uterus during labour, birthing the placenta with minimal bleeding, and stimulating the let down of breastmilk. Humans (and cats) make oxytocin best when they’re in the dark, in a quiet space, and relatively unobserved.  A synthetic version of this hormone (syntocinon/pitocin) is used to induce labour.

Endorphin

The good stuff!  Endorphins are your body’s answer to labour pain, and are found at levels up to thirty times higher than normal in women at the peak of labour.  They help us mentally transcend labour, and enter what birth peeps often describe as Labour Land.  Women in Labour Land tend to be flushed, warm and have that far away look in their eye that says Eh. Call back later.

Adrenaline

The excitement hormone.  Adrenaline often goes into overdrive when we think labour is finally starting.  Its also responsible for our fight/flight response and thats important to know, because if this response is triggered too early in labour, its not unusual for things to grind to a screeching halt.  We all know the one about that friend who went into hospital and her contractions stopped the culprit here is often the adrenaline we release in a strange environment with bright lights, and new faces. On the positive side, adrenaline pairs up with oxytocin at the end of labour to produce those big, strong contractions that make you want to push like nothing else in the world.

All of these hormones have something in common – which brings us back to our pet cat. Just like the mammalian cat, we mammalian humans produce these birth hormones best with a few key basics in place.  They all cost nothing, they’re easy to implement either at home or in hospital, and they’re all completely risk free.

Lights Out!

Take your primal brain back to the safety of darkness, and get that oxytocin flowing by keeping lighting low.  If labouring in the day time, make the room as dark as possible.  You know those hippy homebirthers with their candle lit rooms?  Dont mock, its not just about the ambience!

Watch, Poke and Prod Sparingly

No one should be eyeballing you from six inches away, unless you want or need them there.  Can you poop with the door open while someone you don’t know well is in your house?  Giving birth tends to be just as difficult with an audience.  This extends to virtual audiences too – there’s nothing guaranteed to generate performance anxiety like announcing to 200 Facebook friends that you’re having contractions fifteen minutes apart.

Shhhhhhh!!

Five minute updates on the footy score, or discussing the aftermath of Aunty Jenny’s 35 hour epidural/episiotomy/forceps birth in 1974 are probably best avoided.  Conversation and being asked questions switches on our neocortex when it needs to be taking a back seat (besides, talking about Aunty Jenny’s birth wont do much for those adrenaline levels, anyway!). Keep it low key, especially as labour establishes.

Move it!

Get off the bed or couch and move around. Get up.  Get down.  Get on the floor.  Open your throat and groan. Sway your hips and make some noise. Make out with your partner (but dont get too carried away if your waters have released). Do whatever you feel like. The sounds and movements that got the baby in there, will get the baby out.

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You'll still have to DIY your Spotify labour playlist...but I'm guessing you got that.