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Laughter: The Best Medicine for Labor

Laura Shanley


When it comes to getting babies out of birth canals without resorting to forceps, vacuums, salad tongs, or the "jaws of life," nothing beats laughter (except of course faith, patience, and sex). According to an article in the Boulder Daily Camera (Laughter really may be among the best medicines, Nov. 4, 1996), laughter helps control pain, lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and increase muscle flexion. It also shuts off the flow of stress hormones, increases the body's ability to utilize oxygen, and triggers a flood of beta endorphins, the brain's natural morphine-like compounds that can induce a sense of euphoria. Although the article doesn't specifically mention birth, the following comments from birthing women (and one midwife) speak for themselves.

I noticed that whenever Judith would laugh at something, she would have a very good rush [contraction] right afterward, which would dilate her cervix a bunch more. So we all sat around and had a good time talking with each other, and after a few more rushes I checked Judith again and found that she was fully dilated and ready to push the baby out. -From Spiritual Midwifery

Sarah announced her desire to enter the world quite amusingly. As Rich looked down to see where we were, the waters broke in his face...We laughed until the next contraction which brought the crowning of her head. Then two more contraction-pushes and she was here! -From Two Attune

Mary Louise came. She was getting stuff together and I was rushing and started noticing that when I looked in her eyes through a rush I got some strength to feel it as a force that was intelligent and courageous. I noticed that when I looked at Edward through one I felt it as a pain. When I asked her about that, she said that it was because she wasn't believing that it was painful and that I needed to keep my sense of humor and be nice to Edward. That clicked and with the next rush I laughed, and started laughing as they came. That got the energy up higher and of course the rushes came on stronger. -From Spiritual Midwifery

I caught Max myself in a bathtub of lovely, relaxing warm water - and he was born in a laugh,as I was vocalizing a HO - HO - HO sound (a very open sound which came instinctively). -Cat Majors

I didn't think the baby was moving down very fast. Loring crawled back up to tell me I was doing fine. Then he gave me a long kiss and crawled back to inspect my bottom. On his next trip back up to smooch with me he told me I had a cute behind and I really had a laugh. I guess the laugh was what I needed to do. -From The New Nativity

I was afraid to laugh because I thought it would make the baby come out. This was true and I realized that if I laughed and loosened up that the pain would go away and Louisa would come out really easy and everything would be psychedelic and Holy. I laughed. Mark and I started smooching a lot to keep my mouth really loose. This made the contractions come on really strong. -From Spiritual Midwifery

Even though I was still on my hands and knees, my hearing suddenly became very acute. I could hear Gordon on the phone in the next room: Glenn? This is Gord. Could you ask Elly to come over. I think the baby's coming. You think the baby's coming? I echoed to myself. And suddenly, I laughed. I could not help it - the man's hesitation struck me as funny. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Suddenly, I was looking down a tunnel the long way around, as if a telescope inside me - that was somehow outside me - was turned backwards. As I laughed, the baby's head popped out. I tightened my pelvic floor muscles and, turning my head, noticed Gordon at the doorway. Imagining how ludicrous I must have looked, reared up on my haunches with a baby's head sticking out of me, I laughed again. This time, the baby simply fell out into Gordon's out-stretched hands. -From "They Don't Call it a Peak Experience for Nothing," by Ruth Claire (Mothering, Fall 1989)

Laura Shanley is a mother, wife, freelance writer, poet, and student of life. She is especially fascinated with the process of giving birth - both to ideas and to children. Her articles have been published in numerous magazines, and her book, "Unassisted Childbirth", was published in 1994.

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