The shakes are something that is very surprising to many women (including me when I was in my first labor) and often times not talked about. I had a friend who was getting ready to have her fifth baby telling me that it scares her every time and she thought it was actually some kind of seizure.
So here I am to tell you something about them.
First of all, most women do experience shivering in labor. For some it is just a little twitch, for some it is full on I-can’t-stop shaking – REGARDLESS of the birthing plan. It happens in unmedicated births, when you take an epidural or when you have a c-section.
The research shows that shivering might be a result of many factors but mostly it is due to a hormonal concoction that happens only during birth. First of all – oxytocin. It makes the uterus contract, but sometimes it extends to other muscles like calves and thighs. Second – epinephrine, adrenaline and cortisol – in normal circumstances those are hormones that kick in in stressful situations, here they are present to give mother the strength she needs. Don’t worry, endorphins and prolactin are there to balance things out 😉
Another reason might be room temperature, physical and emotional discomfort, exertion and IV-fluids that are generally colder than the body temperature.
PUBMED: “This study confirms the clinical impression that some peripartum shivering-like tremor is nonthermoregulatory. The authors also identified nonthermoregulatory sweating. These data indicate that shivering-like tremor and sweating in the peripartum period is multifactorial.”
Most common times of the shakes to happen are at 5-6cm, during transition (so at about 8+cm) and soon after birth. They mostly last up to 30 minutes but could even last an hour.
During active labor the things that could help are a warm blanket, bath or shower – anything to feel warm, safe and relaxed. The support person should reassure the birthing person that this is absolutely normal and right on time. When the shakes happen and you know you are nearing pushing stage you might want to get ready for it and take a deep breath in appreciation of this wonderful rollercoaster of a birth that will bring you a healthy baby (or babies!).
Now, the doula trick: when you feel shaky, stick out your tongue or get a round lollipop and push it again the roof of your mouth. Sounds funny? It works!