A few weeks ago I listened to this amazing interview with Michel Odent, a French obstetrician and physiological childbirth specialist. The topic of the conversation was about the impact of artificial light on melatonin production and birth.
According to Dr. Odent, the results of recent studies are clear that there is a synergistic relationship between oxytocin (the bonding and love hormone, as well as the hormone that stimulates uterine contractions) and melatonin (a sleep regulating hormone). We know it is common for women to go into labor at night when it’s dark (and melatonin is naturally present) but this interview helped me understand a bit more about why!
Melatonin helps us sleep by turning down the volume on our prefrontal cortex (or thinking brain), and when we stop thinking we can relax more and sleep. Later in pregnancy, increased melatonin production is linked with increased oxytocin production, supporting a more relaxed and instinctive state of being, a state more conducive to labor.
(I may be extrapolating but this link also kind of makes sense of our instinct to make love after dark in low light too when melatonin helps turn off our thinking brain and our animal instincts are more apt to take over. I wonder if low melatonin is linked with lowered sex drive?? So many questions!! But back to birth...)
Amazingly Dr. Odent shared that there is also evidence that when women labor, even if they end up birthing by c-section, their babies have been exposed to this natural increased production of melatonin and melatonin is present in their bloodstreams, acting as an antioxidant in the newborn!
So the point is that melatonin plays this key role in natural birth, but our artificial lighting, tv and computer screens, especially LED and blue spectrum lighting interferes with our natural melatonin production. That’s why, whether you are pregnant or not, one of the best things you can do if you suffer from any kind of insomnia that makes it hard for you to fall asleep, is get off your electronics and keep lights low at night to support your brain getting the message to release melatonin, shut down your thinking brain, and get some rest.
Now, not only is the idea for women to labor in dim lighting an intuitive or instinctive thought, but there is real science to support this practice. So please share this with your pregnant family, friends and clients. It’s such an easy, natural and simple way to support the progress of labor, to keep lights low during labor and in the weeks around your due date, to avoid artificial light and electronics at night.
The following practical tips may help you circumnavigate the negative effects of artificial light in daily life:
1. Add f.lux to your computer. This program can be synced up with your time zone to kill your screen’s blue light when the sunsets wherever you live. Download it here.
2. I’ve also converted my iphone to grayscale so I’m not stimulated by any blue light, which has also been linked to making phone usage less addictive. It makes everything appear in black and white. You can google how to switch your phone over, plus I believe f.lux is also available for phones if you don’t have grayscale capacity on your phone.