Shaking During Pregnancy And After Labour: Here's Why This Happens

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

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 the phenomenon of shaking during pregnancy. Shivering before labor and after delivery is a part of the childbirth experience. 

Almost all women experience uncontrollable shivering before labor. This can happen irrespective of your birth plan. 

So whether you have a normal vaginal delivery, take an epidural or have a caesarean section, chances are you will experience this. 

Shaking before labor is fairly normal and natural but also pretty annoying. It’s a hormonal reaction to the release of oxytocin that causes uterus contractions. But an excess of it (sometimes due to induced labour) can cause muscle contractions in their legs, back, arms and feet. Add to that, the raging stress hormones mix with this and can cause physical reactions that resemble shocks. 

It’s a momentary thing and the body does calm down. It won’t harm you or your baby in any way. 

Shaking During Pregnancy: A Completely Natural Phenomenon 

Shaking during pregnancy is 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 pregnancy before labour, 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 caesarean section. Many women even experience nausea and vomiting in this transition phase, whether or not they have been given anaesthesia. 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.

You could feel shaking during pregnancy before labour at any of these stages. Often, the shakes are experienced just after giving birth too. 

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 non-thermoregulatory. The authors also identified non-thermoregulatory sweating. These data indicate that shivering-like tremor and sweating in the peripartum period is multifactorial,” the study shares. 

Severity Of Shaking During Pregnancy Before & After Labour

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’s The Science Behind Shaking Before Labor?

Although the jury is still out on the exact reason for the shaking or shivers, these reasons are considered as 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 before labor. 

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 before labor. Experts suggest that during labour some amount of the foetal blood comes in contact with the mother’s bloodstream. 

So if there is an 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 pregnancy

Sometimes cold intravenous fluid administration can also cause Shaking during pregnancy before labour | 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 bloodstream. Typically, this happens during a caesarean 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 a 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 temperature 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 Every Time You Give Birth? 

Each time you give birth and you experience a rush of hormones during the last stage of labour, you will feel the shakes. This makes it unavoidable during childbirth. Also, if you have any of the experiences detailed above, you can experience labour shakes. 

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. 

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 pregnancy

Shaking during pregnancy before and after labour: 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 

It’s not just the baby who feels the warmth and security, but it’s also the mother who undergoes the same feelings when she first holds her newborn.

Doctors usually advise new mums to immediately hold their babies. If possible, mums should make skin-to-skin contact with the little one 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 a 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 a fever, the baby will not receive the mother’s first milk and colostrum

In such cases, doctors may give the mother medications to bring down the fever and shivers. She may 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, prepare yourself to experience this on the table. But do remember, it’s only natural and a part of the birthing process.

Sources: NCBI, WebMD


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