Confessions of a doula: contraction master app makes me want to scream

Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it. I HATE the contraction master website and iphone app (there is deliberately no link here). Every time I hear of someone using it I have an almost uncontrollable urge to go on a worldwide rampage destroying each and every iphone and grinding them down ’till they are nothing but dust.

And breathe.

Why does the idea of these meticulously accurate contraction timers drive me to a rage blackout? Well, it’s not because I’m a technophobe (I’ve got a blog AND I twit, twitter, tweet, hoot, whatever) but more because everything about them strikes me as standing in direct opposition to facilitating labour.  This does also apply to timing with digital watches, watches with a second hand, or even a fob watch if I’m honest.

Let’s take it step by step.

1. Observation
So timing of each of your contractions millisecond by millisecond is observation in extremis. Your birth partner is desperately searching your face for signs of a contraction (and probably saying ‘are you having one? has it started yet?’ every minute or so) so they can be sure to push the button at the exact moment your contraction commences. You are also engaged in a frantic self-study to be sure you say ‘go’ exactly as your contraction begins. And then, between contractions, you both get to pour over the data analysing whether your last contraction was longer/shorter/closer or further away than the last.

Why is observation bad? Well, it comes down to oxytocin – the hormone that our bodies release to get contractions going. The more oxytocin the more effective the contractions. Oxytocin is a shy little wallflower though and is inhibited by things like bright lights, talking and observation. It’s the same stuff you release when you make love and chances are that if someone had popped in with a timer to give a moment by moment account of the time you conceived, you might well not be reading this blog. Just as most people can’t envisage successful sex while someone times their every move, labour isn’t best facilitated by constant, intense observation.

2. Intelligent brain
I’m afraid this isn’t a compliment or a suggestion that you sign up with MENSA. The neocortex is the bit of our brain that sets us apart from other mammals. It’s the intelligent bit – the one that makes decisions (or endlessly procrastinates), debates, worries and weighs up options. It is pretty brilliant in almost all aspects of our human lives apart from labour, when it is the ENEMY. Oxytocin is much more friendly with the primitive bit of our brain (ever wonder why animals give birth so easily?) but gets a bit shy when we start using our neocortex. So, if you are sitting there thinking ‘is this a contraction, oh hang on no it’s wind. Oh but this is definitely one. Bert, get the iphone. Has he pressed it?  I wonder how long this one will be. Will I have time to catch the headlines before the next one comes? I really want to hear MORE about the royal wedding.’ Etc etc etc, you are keeping that intelligent bit of your brain super active and thus repressing the hormone your body needs to produce to make your labour efficient.

3. Fear and anxiety
Most people are fearful and anxious at some point in advance of their impending labour. Part of what I do is to help couples understand and deal with their anxieties in advance of labour so they don’t jump out at us unexpected on B-Day. Why is anxiety of particular concern during labour? You guessed it: oxytocin. Fear makes our bodies produce adrenalin. Handy if you need to flee, but a right pain in the **** if you are in labour.

Oxytocin and adrenalin are the two popular girls who turn up to the school disco in the same dress: when adrenalin walks in to the room, oxytocin legs it as fast as it possibly can. So if you are sitting there thinking, ‘Oh god, my contractions aren’t getting any closer together. They aren’t ever going to. I’m going to be in labour forever. In fact they are slowing down. Oh god.’ your contractions probably are slowing down, as you’ve scared the bejasus out of your oxytocin and your labour has stalled.

4. Not going to’ that place’
There’s a place, a place for us labouring women. It’s a place where no one else can join us, where nothing else matters, where the world disappears. In all the labours I’ve been present at, there’s a point where the women gives herself over to what she’s feeling. It might be in a quiet, accepting way it might be in a ‘come and get me labour, I’ll take you on’ kind of way, but however she does it, she sort of disappears. Everything else recedes and she’s focused on herself, her baby, what she’s feeling. She often doesn’t hear you unless you speak right in to her ear, she doesn’t like noise or distraction. It’s at this point that I think ‘this baby isn’t too far away’. Now, if you’ve got a data sheet in front of you, responsibility for shouting ‘go’  and ‘stop’ to your partner so they can time your contractions you aren’t going to be able to disappear off to that place.

So, I beg you, don’t slavishly time your contractions. Hide the iphone and chuck the clock in the bin. Physically stop your partner from visiting the app store.

What do I suggest? Well, go with the flow. Sure, your partner may want to look at the clock from time to time to reassure you that things are progressing and answer the midwife’s questions. But there’s no need to have a blow by blow account on your iphone. Listen to your instincts and back them up with your partner glancing at their watch occasionally.

Let the oxytocin flow!

Over and out.

13 Responses to “Confessions of a doula: contraction master app makes me want to scream”
  1. beautifully put, thank you! xoxox

  2. Claire says:

    I downloaded something because I’ve been having contractions since 24 weeks – being a regular impatient mummy! I thought it would help me keep track of what’s happening but I can never figure out what they’re doing and now my rule is they have to be going more than two hours before I read anything into it.

    You remind me of the partner who’s watching the CTG and saying “did you feel that one?” “That was a big one!” Mum and my partner were sat open mouthed at the CTG with my last baby, I was settled at 80-90 and contractions were the line across the top with +16 (and up) on it!

    • Rebecca says:

      Watching the CTG is another pet hate. Impossible not to do it, but it becomes another person in the room!

      Good luck with everything this time (not that you need luck of course!)

  3. Birth Smart says:

    Brilliant! and to think a few years ago it would not have been needed . . .

  4. Janeya says:

    Yes! I seldom time my clients contractions for long and the nurses sometimes seem annoyed when we get to the hospital. It doesn’t make a difference to how along they are and I just find it distracting. Your post put into words why I felt it didn’t really help.

    • Dodge says:

      When I tgauht Maternal/Child Nursing to student nurses, I always added to the curriculum. I required them to read and report on the Lamaze care pratices for normal birth, and showed them birth videos such as Gentle Birth Choices, The Business of Being Born, Laboring Under an Illusion, and others. The students were always amazed at what the textbooks didn’t tell them, and expressed appreciation for seeing another side of the coin.

  5. Jenny B says:

    Lol. This was great….though, I’m embarrassed to say I used it the whole first hour of my 3 hour labor to help me decide if I should call my mw. 🙂 my labor followed no particular pattern is what I learned from using that app. Hehe.

    • Rebecca says:

      That’s the trouble with it – you are looking for a pattern which sometimes doesn’t exist. Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone that you used it !

  6. My hubby told me he heard on the radio that on average it takes a man 60 strokes (if you know what I mean 😉 to get to orgasm. Then he thought for a moment and said, “but I bet I couldn’t if I was counting”.

    Love this Rebecca – am sharing xxx

  7. Anija says:

    so great to forward- thank you for putting it plain and simple!
    let your monkey do it! 🙂

  8. Elyse says:

    LOVE this post!!! I am going to share this with all my clients!

  9. Motherfunker says:

    I love you! You are bang on lady x

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