What if I told you that some of the best things to help prepare your body for labor and birth are to relax, have sex or orgasm and eat dark chocolate? Not only is this true but scientifically proven! Let’s talk about it!
Before we talk about any of the science and evidence it is important to have a basic understanding of the hormone oxytocin. The primary function of oxytocin is to stimulate contractions of the uterus during and after childbirth as well as contraction of the breast tissue when releasing milk during breastfeeding. Synthetic oxytocin is called Pitocin and is the medication given in the hospital setting to induce labor. According to the Society of endocrinology 2020, oxytocin is also responsible for sexual aousal, romatic attachment, devolping trust, as well as mother and infant bonding. This is why oxytocin is known as the love, labor and bonding hormone. Therefore, it makes sense that taking part in activities that boost the amount of oxytocin in the body can help to ripen and ready the cervix and stimulate labor.
Oxytocin and cortisol have an interesting relationship in the body. When the body is under physical or emotional stress, cortisol levels are increased. According to McQuaid et al., 2016 “ baseline oxytocin levels are inversely related to basal plasma cortisol levels.” Managing stress through relaxation can also help to maintain or even increase oxytocin. Practicing techniques to help reduce physical tension caused by stress as well as fear and anxiety prior to birth, can help you to effectively manage pain when labor begins. (Smith et al., 2018)
Relaxing and reducing stress in pregnancy is easier said than done. First of all let me address the fact that relaxing when you are nine months pregnant is not an easy task for both physical and mental reasons. Physically speaking there are several factors including, pain, fatigue, frequent urination, indigestion, gas and or nausea just to name a few.
Mentally, there can be a great deal of anxiety about the unexpected nature of the upcoming labor and birth and surrounding circumstances. Then there is also the added stress from well meaning family and friends that wonder why the baby has not been born yet? This can be especially stressful if your “due date” has come and gone. Our lovely, Blissborn instructor Laura Wood taught me an amazing expression that may help with this. She always says “ Babies are born on their birthdays not their due date.” In fact only about 5% of babies are born on their actual due date (The Evidence On: Due Dates, 2017). Just 5%! Research has shown that only ½ of first time mothers/birth givers will have their babies by 40 weeks and 5 days gestation with at least ⅔ giving birth by 41 weeks and 2 days (The Evidence On: Due Dates, 2017). That same research says that only ½ of repeat mothers/birth givers will have their babies by 40 weeks and 3 days gestation with at least ⅔ giving birth by 41 weeks. (The Evidence On: Due Dates, 2017). So what are some ways to practice relaxation in the face of so much stress?
Ways to relax during pregnancy:
Flotation therapy/ Epsom salt bath
Listen to music
Practice Blissborn/ Hypnosis techniques
Watch your favorite movies/ TV shows or read a feel good book
Go for a walk or a swim
Attend Belly Dance/Dancing for birth class
Practice breathing exercises/ breath work
Get a pedicure
Sing in the shower or your car
Take a nap
Take some time off work
Try aroma therapy
Hire someone to clean your house for you
Spend quality time with family, friends and your partner
Spending quality time with your spouse/ partner can be extremely beneficial in increasing the amount of oxytocin your body makes. This can be as simple as cuddling while watching a movie, taking a leisurely stroll while holding hands, hugging, kissing, eye gazing and/ or giving or receiving a massage. According to McQuaid et al., 2016, social support and enhanced connectivity between intimate partners increases feelings of trust, and reduces physical and mental stress. There is even some evidence that these types of activities may increase fidelity and level of attraction felt by intimate partners (Is There Really a “Love Hormone”?, n.d.)
Full fledged intimacy in the form of intercourse, outer course (external stimulation of genitals) or oral sex can also increase relational bonds and levels of oxytocin in the body (Cera et al., 2021). As mentioned previously, oxytocin is also linked to sexual arousal (Society of endocrinology 2020) and can even impact the intensity of an orgasm (Cera et al., 2021). For women and people with the capacity for pregnancy, orgasm can cause contraction of the uterus from both penetration and muscle contraction in the sexual organs (Dekker, 2020) so it can also include maturbation. Orgasm combined with nipple stimulation can amplify oxytocin release in the body, especially in full term pregnancy when all oxytocin receptors are present and fully functional (Dekker, 2020). A third way that sex can help prepare your body for labor and birth includes sex that produces ejaculate. Semen contains high levels of prostaglandins E and F2 alpha which can soften and open the cervix when they remain in the vagina after intercourse and can even cause contractility of the uterus (Dekker, 2020.)
If the idea of intercourse or orgasm at the end of your pregnancy is the absolute last thing you want to experience or is just not an option for you, don’t forget about chocolate! Chocolate has had a long time correlation with romance, and love and has even been thought of as an aphrodisiac (Salonia et al., 2006). It should come as no surprise that eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate with high cocoa concentrations, promotes both dopamine and oxytocin release in the brain, inducing a pleasurable feeling similar to falling in love (Salonia et al., 2006). Dark chocolate also contains magnesium and tryptophan. Magnesium is a mineral necessary for the proper functioning of oxytocin receptor sites throughout the body (Salonia et al., 2006.) Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin which is another feel good hormone that will help your body relax and prepare for labor and birth (Brooks, 2019). Eating 1-2 squares of dark chocolate that contains 50-70% cacao per day has also been shown to decrease high blood pressure, regulate diabetes, and increase endorphins. (Brooks, 2019). Endorphins help to reduce pain and therefore could even help make labor less painful. (Smith et al., 2018)
In conclusion, stressing about when or how your body is going to go into labor can only prolong the process. Stress is not a beneficial use of your time or energy. My best professional advice is to find ways to relax the body and mind, and increase positive feelings of attachment and pleasure. In other words relax, have sex and eat dark chocolate! Midwives orders! Your baby will be in your arms before you know it!
Corrianne Parada, CNM
I am a native of New Mexico’s beautiful sister state Colorado. After spending my formative years there, I moved to Hawaii and experienced two of my life’s biggest events and all-time joys: I eloped there and soon after, I became a mother. In 2005, we moved to Austin, Texas and I found myself pregnant for a second time. My first birth had been nothing like I had planned it to be, and I really wanted something different for my second birth. After some research (and backlash from family), I had an amazing homebirth with a wonderful midwife. Afterward, I continued my nursing education and I graduated as an RN in 2011. Soon after, I had another amazing home birth — at this point, I had completely fallen in love with birth. I began working as a doula and became a Hypnobirthing instructor. My passion became supporting, educating, and empowering women and growing families, and I realized that my calling was to become a midwife. I began working as a labor and delivery nurse and began midwifery school at Frontier Nursing University. I became pregnant a fourth time, and again had an amazing home birth. Many hours of hard work and sacrifice later, I graduated midwifery school with an MSN in October of 2018. After an extensive search, many prayers and an abundant amount of love and support from family and friends, I found my position at Dar a Luz! In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my awesome family, as well as laughter yoga, dancing, hiking and binging on Netflix! My all-time favorite part about birth is standing witness to the moment when the baby emerges earthside, a new family is born, and a woman realizes everything she is truly capable of. Genuinely, one of life’s great miracles — and somehow, I get to call it my job!
Brooks, A. (2019, August 16). 8 Healthy Reasons to Eat Dark Chocolate. EverydayHealth.com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-and-nutrition-pictures/delicious-reasons-to-eat-dark-chocolate.aspx
Cera, N., Vargas-Cáceres, S., Oliveira, C., Monteiro, J., Branco, D., Pignatelli, D., & Rebelo, S. (2021). How Relevant is the Systemic Oxytocin Concentration for Human Sexual Behavior? A Systematic Review. Sexual Medicine, 9(4), 100370. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2021.100370
McQuaid, R. J., McInnis, O. A., Paric, A., Al-Yawer, F., Matheson, K., & Anisman, H.
(2016). Relations between plasma oxytocin and cortisol: The stress buffering role of
social support. Neurobiology of Stress, 3, 52–60.
Smith, C. A., Levett, K. M., Collins, C. T., Armour, M., Dahlen, H. G., & Suganuma, M. (2018). Relaxation techniques for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd009514.pub2