Updated: Feb 22
Want a fun way to make some progress in labor? Get close to your partner. Now closer.
Photo: Gather Birth Collective | Minneapolis, Minnesota
If you want to get real nerdy with me, there's science studying things called proprioceptors in our bodies. Proprioceptors, are a special type of nerve endings that respond to stimuli such as touch, pressure, and vibration. Studies have shown that our lips contain large amounts and are some of the most sensitive places on our bodies.
Activating those receptors on your lips has multiple benefits during labor.
1. Kissing and loving on your partner can boost the oxytocin hormone which is responsible for contracting your uterus and bringing your baby down.
2. Kissing can reduce your discomfort by activating the gate control theory.
I love teaching about the gate control theory in my childbirth classes. When we understand this brain chemistry, we can use it to our advantage to help reduce our perception of pain. The idea is this: the sensations of pain and the sensations of other stimuli travel at different speeds along our nerves. If you can, in a sense flood, those nerve pathways with an increase in stimulation, you can decrease the speed at which pain can be perceived.
It's helpful to think of the pathways between our nerves and our brains as a highway. (If you are in class with me, I make a literal "highway" out of tape on the floor and we get up and move around and try to reach the "brain". Because it's dorky and fun and because movement breaks are necessary if you are pregnant). If you jam the highway full of other sensations, you can reduce the speed at which the painful stimuli can reach the brain. Think of your painful stimuli as being stuck in traffic, if there's more cars on the road, it will take more time for them to reach their destination (your pain receptors).
To introduce different sensations during your labor you can try massage, squeezing, counter pressure, a TENS unit, light touching, kissing, a hot or cold compress, a bath or a the warm stream of a shower head. The palms of your hands are also a very sensitive place on your body. Some people squeeze a comb like this example below to force their mind to focus on another sensation beyond the discomfort of contractions.
Photo: Fresh Pine Photography | St. Louis
On some level we already know this and have experience with using this kind of pain- distracting technique. Here’s an example: what is the first thing most of us do when we bang our funny bone or stub our toe?
We rub it or squeeze it. Does it remove the injury? No, but it reduces some of the discomfort by introducing another sensation of pressure.
The gate control theory doesn't entirely remove the pain, but it can help you cope. When your brain is distracted, you may find you are more able to manage the contractions. It's found that this technique is most effective if you introduce new sensations every 20-30 minutes or so to keep the nerve pathways busy.
Kissing may not be the first thing on your mind when you are laboring and giving birth. And that's ok. But if you are looking for some more non-medical and no-risk things to add to labor toolbox, you can give it a try. You might be surprised. The next time you are in labor or any kind of discomfort, fire up those smoochers and you may kiss your way to less pain!
Some more photos of partners loving on each other during labor because it's always the bestest, most genuine stuff out there. Human connection is so beautiful and powerful.
Photo: When a Belly Blooms
Photo: Shirley Anne Photo
Photo: Jaleesa Koelen