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Shaking during childbirth: You need to know about this before you go into delivery

Whether you have a vaginal delivery or take an epidural or have a C-section, you will experience shaking during childbirth.

Now that you are in your third trimester, you may have read up on everything about labour. You've probably taken all the classes to prepare for the big day. And you've armed yourself with knowledge of real-life delivery experiences. But no class or book can prepare you for shaking during childbirth.

Yes, you read that right. There is such a thing.

Almost all women experience uncontrollable shivering or shaking during childbirth. This can happen irrespective of your birth plan.

So whether you have a normal vaginal delivery or take an epidural or have a cesarean section, chances are you will experience this lesser-known phenomenon.

But there's no need for worry. This won't harm you or your baby in anyway.

Shaking during childbirth: A completely natural phenomenon

Labour shakes are a result of your fluctuating hormones. Subtle shifts in hormone levels can create various physical and psychological responses in the body. And this is exactly what happens during delivery.

To understand why you experience shaking during childbirth, let's first understand the process of labour. Typically, there are three stages of active labour.

  • First stage: This stage begins with the onset of true labour. You may experience contractions and will be dilated to almost 10 centimetres. This is the active part of labour and your contractions last from 60 to 90 seconds. They come regularly, each after two minutes.
  • Second stage: In this stage, you experience actual childbirth and push the baby out. Or you are administered a cesarean section. Many women even experience nausea and vomiting in this transition phase, whether or not they have been given anesthesia. This is also the hardest stage of labour.
  • Third stage: During the third and final stage, your placenta comes out. Basically your body clears out everything inside of you once the baby is out.

It is after this third stage that you will feel labour shakes.

This is usually an adrenaline response of the hormones to temperature changes in the body.

In fact, a study published in PubMed also suggests that shivering is dependent on many factors including temperature and fluctuating hormones.

"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," the study shares.

What is the severity of shaking during childbirth?

Again, this differs in every woman in labour. The shivering usually lasts anywhere between a few seconds to a couple of minutes. But as mentioned, along with the labour shakes, most women feel other common symptoms of delivery as well.

These include cold shakes and cold sweats, itching, vomiting, trembling or crying.

In most cases, a warm bath or a quick wrap of warm blankets dramatically brings down the shaking. It relaxes the muscles and calms the nerves.

Sometimes, medications like Demerol (a narcotic) are administered. But it is only given in rare cases and under the supervision of the gynaecologist.

What is the science behind shaking during childbirth?

Although the jury is still out on the exact reason for shaking during childbirth, these reasons are considered the top contenders.

1. Raging hormones

During labour, the oxytocin hormone is intravenously given to induce labour. The purpose of this hormone is to shrink the uterus and to control the bleeding.

This hormone causes uterine contractions and even muscle contractions which many women feel in their arms, legs and even feet.

In addition to contractions, stress hormones such as epinephrine, cortisol and adrenaline, and dramatically shifting bodily fluids lead to shock. This sensation is what causes shaking during delivery.

2. Exertion

Pushing a baby out of your vagina is hard work. Your entire body works to get this job done, and so massive exertion is part of the deal. When you exert pressure to push the baby out, your body temperature rises.

Once your baby is born, your body tries to normalise that increased temperature. Due to this heat regulation, you feel shivers and shakes. This is a normal physical reaction of the body. You should ideally get over it within a couple of minutes or hours.

3. Blood incompatibility

Another recent theory also points at blood incompatibility as the reason for shaking during childbirth. Experts suggest that during labour some amount of the foetal blood comes in contact with the mother's bloodstream.

So if there is incompatibility in the blood type between the new mum and her baby — for instance the mother is A+ and the baby is AB+ — she can feel shivering, teeth-chattering and cold during childbirth.

shaking during childbirth Sometimes cold intravenous fluid administration can also cause shivering to some extent. | Image courtesy: Dreamstime

4. IV Fluids

In some cases, intravenous fluid administration can also cause shivering to some extent. For instance, when a woman is given an epidural or any other drug during childbirth, it is possible to feel cold and shiver.

That's because most of the IV fluids are colder than our body temperatures. So when they enter the body, they can make you feel cold.

5. Amniotic fluid contact

During the process of childbirth, sometimes the amniotic fluid enters the mother's blood stream. Typically, this happens during a cesarean section and not a normal vaginal birth. But, it can also cause some level of shivering and shaking.

6. Infection

In some cases, mothers may also have fever at the time of delivery. If your temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it may indicate an infection.

Your doctor will check you 24 hours postpartum. If the number is still 100 and you also feel pelvic pain or breast pain, they may diagnose you for infection from an unexpelled tissue, blockage of milk ducts and even mastitis.

However, if you think you just have to experience this once in your life, you're  highly mistaken.

Will you experience shaking during labour every time you give birth?

The answer is, yes. Each time you give birth and you experience a rush of hormones during the last stage of labour, you will feel the shakes.

Also, if you have any of the experiences detailed above, you can experience labour shakes.

As mentioned before, shaking during labour comes uninvited, regardless of the previous numbers of deliveries and your birth plan. But, there are many natural ways for a mother to normalise and feel stronger.

What are the best ways to soothe and calm new mothers?

Because the new mother has experienced shaking during childbirth, her body is still vulnerable and cold. At this juncture, she will need all the support she can get – whether mental, physical or emotional.

So here are a few ways to help her feel calm and relaxed.

1. Warm her up

Almost instantly after the new mum experiences shaking during childbirth, doctors and nurses should ideally cover her up in blankets. This keeps her feeling warm and will relax her body.

Usually, doctors cover up the upper body at the delivery table because they know what's coming. Once the delivery has taken place and the mother is all cleaned up, she is completely covered in warm blankets and given some time to rest.

shaking during childbirth Skin-to-skin contact with the baby can help bring down a new mother's temperature. | Image courtesy: Dreamstime

2. Skin-to-skin with the baby

The feeling of warmth and security is not just felt by the baby, but also by the mother when she first holds her newborn.

Doctors usually advise new mums to immediately hold their babies. If possible, they are asked to give skin-to-skin contact to feel warm.

Some mothers may not be able to do this or want to do it. But the fact is that skin-to-skin contact with the baby can help bring down her temperature.

3. Medications

In some rare cases shivering is accompanied by fever. This can be dangerous for the mother as well as the newborn.

The mother has to breastfeed the child ideally within an hour of birth. And if she has fever, the baby will not receive the mother's first milk and colostrum.

In such cases, a mother may be given medications to bring down the fever and the shivers. She may the be wrapped in warm blankets and given more time to recover from the delivery.

The only thing to remember here is that shaking during childbirth is completely normal. In fact, it is part of your body's recovery process. It only means that you need mental, physical and emotional support.

So if you haven't read about shaking during childbirth before, be prepared to experience this on the table.

Sources: NCBI, WebMD

ALSO READ: What labour pain really feels like

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore