There’s something poetic about having a baby during the Christmas period; with nativity scenes displayed in rich variety, far and wide. But more than that, the festive period offers a feel-good factor like no other. It’s the perfect season to get the oxytocin flowing; helping labouring women everywhere. So, we thought we’d put together our top tips for creating an oxytocin-inducing atmosphere for a festive early labour.
What is early labour?
The technical term is the latent phase. During this time your contractions aren’t yet regular, and vary in strength and length. Inside, your cervix is starting to dilate (up to 3-4 cm), but it can be a stop-start process. This means the latent phase can last anything from a few hours to several days.
Try to stay at home as long as possible!
Research shows that arriving at hospital too early, or when you aren’t in established labour, can lead to an increased rate of obstetric intervention. This is a key reason we advise you stay at home whilst in early labour.
You’ll know you’re in ‘established’ labour. It’s when your contractions are approximately five minutes apart and lasting at least 30-40 seconds. You probably won’t be able to speak through them either.
Why is oxytocin important in labour?
Oxytocin is often refered to as the love hormone. It is released when you’re relaxed and happy. It plays a huge role in labour, oxytocin helps shape the frequency, length and strength of your contractions. So, the more oxytocin you have flowing through your body, the more effective your contractions are at pushing your baby out.
Feeling stressed and anxious has the opposite effect. It releases adrenaline into your system, which suppresses the release of oxytocin and can slow the first stage of labour down.
Distraction is key
Distraction is crucial in early labour! Try not to focus on your contractions – certainly don’t record them all, there are loads of more exciting things you can be doing! Don’t worry, you’ll know when they’re close enough to think about heading to your chosen birth setting.
Here are our top tips to get the oxytocin flowing, using everything this festive period offers to support and distract you.
Dig out the Christmas tunes…
OK, so we appreciate that everyone’s tastes in music are different. So, this list might not be to your liking…but we took a bit of a straw poll in the office and felt these were feel-good, oxytocin-inducing songs, that you can’t help but tap your feet to. No doubt, you’ll have your own favourites to add to the mix! In no particular order, our top ten Christmas tunes:
- All I want for Christmas (Mariah Carey)
- Fairytale of New York (The Pogues)
- Baby it’s cold outside (Tom Jones & Cerys Matthews)
- Santa Baby (Eartha Kitt)
- Last Christmas (Wham)
- It’s the most wonderful time of the year (Andy Williams)
- Winter Wonderland (Michael Bublé)
- It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (Bing Crosby)
- I wish it could be Christmas every day (Wizzard)
- Merry Christmas everybody! (Slade)
Enjoy some festive, carb-rich foods
It’s important you both try to eat as normally as possible in the latent phase of labour. You don’t know how long it might last – and you both need to build up your energy stores for the main event!
We’ve come up with a festive menu to keep you going through the day…
Breakfast: Chocolate & Cinnamon Porridge
Oats are pretty much a superfood. They’re low in fat, high in fibre, protein and antioxidants, and will keep you fuller for longer. It’s the breakfast of champions – the long-distant running kind, and as people liken labour to running a marathon (or two), what could be a more perfect way to start the day?
As a special treat – you are giving birth after all – why not mix in a couple of cubes of dark chocolate and dust with a teaspoon of cinnamon! You can even add a sliced banana.
Lunch: Spiced Parsnip Soup
This is a simple, delicious soup. You may not feel like a big meal, so a mug of soup may be just enough to curb your hunger. We’ve used a mild curry powder, as spicy food can induce heartburn in some pregnant women. Oh, and there is no evidence that spicy food will stimulate labour!
Click here to view the recipe: Spiced parsnip soup
Dinner: Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta
Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Brussel sprouts! Chuck in some pancetta and you have something special. Plus, it’s super quick and easy to make.
Click here to view the recipe: Pasta with Brussels sprouts and pancetta
Snack: Roasted chestnuts
Chestnuts are a great snack to enjoy in early labour. They are lower in fat than other nuts. Also, they are rich in fibre, and are surprisingly high in vitamin C!
All you need is a bag of raw chestnuts.
Pre-heat your oven to 200°. Cut a cross on the flat side of the chestnut. This will help you peel the skin off more easily, once roasted. Spread the chestnuts onto a baking tray and simply roast on the top shelf of your oven for approximately 20-30 minutes.
Oh…and why not get a bit of Nat King Cole playing in the background! “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” – The Christmas Song.
Give natural pain relief a go
There’s loads you can do at home to help reduce any discomfort you may be feeling in early labour.
Water is a wonderful way to ease aches and pains. Check out our Pregnant pamper session for some tips on setting up a festive-themed bath!
Try using a hot water bottle or warmed wheat-bag in early labour. Simply apply it to your lower back or groin area (never your bump). It’s an effective way of relaxing sore muscles.
This is an excellent way to relief muscle tension and get your body’s natural endorphins flowing. Check out this video for some massage moves, from our expert Claire Nutt!
Try not to hold your breath during a contraction! Focus on breathing in slowly through your nose as the contraction builds, then breathing out through your mouth as it subsides. If you’re having trouble keeping your breathing in check, try counting your breath in and out. Your birth partner can help here too, by encouraging you to breathe in and out in time with them. Controlling your breathing throughout labour will help you maintain control and conserve your energy.
We like this clip – it helps you visualise your lungs filling and emptying.
Hypnobirthing is a great tool for labour. But if you haven’t been to classes there are other options. Mindfulness (this is an interesting blog, 10 tips for a mindful birth), visualisation or simply focussing on positive words and mantras will all help.
6. Move around
Being active throughout your labour is hugely important – gravity will help your baby descend into the pelvis, and rotate into the best position for birth. Research shows that women who are active in labour tend to have shorter labours and less need for pain medications. In early labour, try to get out for a short walk – even if it’s just to the end of the road and back. Check out our What are the benefits of different birth positions article for more positions you can use at home.
Relax with our top five Christmas films!
Yep, relax. You may be thinking, ‘who are they kidding?!’, but this is why distraction is so important in early labour. And, films are the perfect distraction method. Dim the lights, lie down (ideally, on your side) on the sofa, or prop yourself on cushions and lean over your birthing ball. And get your partner to dig out the Christmas films. Again, there are hundreds of films you could choose from, but here are our top five.
- Love Actually
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- The Holiday
- The Family Stone
- Miracle on 34th Street
We hope this blog helps you enjoy your latent phase, in a relaxed and festive manner! Good luck and enjoy a wonderful new year with your baby!