[Best of Birthful] Why Uncontrollable Shaking Is an Important Part of Birth

Welcome to the Best of Birthful. Creator and host Adriana Lozada curated and edited each selection in this playlist of the show’s most popular episodes. It’s a tailored introduction to the expansive catalog she amassed over the first five years of Birthful’s 300+ shows.

Doula Lesley Everest explores the primal nature of birth using somatic and emotional support therapies, and an interspiritual ministry. She teaches you how uncontrollable shaking is a very common part of labor, with a significant neurological purpose in the third stage of birth.

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[Best of Birthful] Why Uncontrollable Shaking Is an Important Part of Birth

Adriana Lozada:

Hey, Mighty One. With nearly 300 Birthful episodes in over five years, it may be hard to know where to begin listening to the show. To make it easier, we’ve put together the Best of Birthful series, which showcases some of our favorite or most relevant episodes. This is one of those. If you enjoy what you hear, make sure you subscribe. It’s free, and that way you won’t miss a thing. Enjoy. 

Hello, Mighty Parents and Parents-to-Be. Thank you as always for all the love you give the show. Welcome, Lesley. It is so wonderful to have you on the show. 

Lesley Everest: Hi, Adriana. Thanks so much for inviting me. I’m really excited to be here. 

Lozada: Oh, so good. Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself? 

Everest: You know, I’m just your Canadian doula. That’s who I am. 

Lozada: You are more than that. 

Everest: It’s cool. I’m good with that. I have been a doula in Montreal for about… Well, over 26 years, actually. And I am a bodyworker. I’m currently getting my certification in biodynamic craniosacral therapy. I’m an interspiritual minister and I’m a doula trainer, so I really like to draw from a lot of narratives, from different wisdom traditions when looking at birth, and teaching about how to build resilience in birth. Not in any religious way. Just in a narrative way. 

How do we prepare our nervous systems for birth and all of its mystery and craziness to land on us in a way that we can navigate as easily as possible? There’s so much that we don’t know, and it shows up in every person so differently. That’s why when we do things like timing contractions and things, that all actually seems kind of strange to me, because that assumes that everybody’s body is working in the same way, and has to meet the same pattern, and it’s just so not like that. It’s just… step back and really have a look. 

Lozada: And so, however, we do navigate the birth, even though it’s not a medical event, it’s usually put in a medical environment. 

Everest: Yes. 

Lozada: And I feel that we are discovering a lot of how to navigate that while also supporting the physiology. And also, why I was so excited to talk to you today, because we’ve… I feel that there’s an aspect of birth that kind of gets truncated, which is that physiology of the third stage, which has a lot of… There’s a reason that things need to happen to sort of close the cycle, and we’re intervening with that. So, that’s a bit of what we’re gonna talk about and we’ll go different places, but where do you want to start in exploring that? 

Everest: Let’s dive in with that. I’d like to talk about birth as a nervous system event, because when we look at it that way, we can see the importance of the integrative gifts that we have available to us in the third stage and after our birth, and how it is important to leverage those gifts in order to kind of feel like we’re complete in the birth. I feel like trauma, this has been said by Dr. Peter Levine, who’s a very well known trauma therapist, that trauma is a nervous system injury. This is when something really difficult happens coupled in an immobilization response. 

So, when we’re giving birth, we’re definitely immobilized, and if everything goes well and we have time for our bodies to down regulate and integrate, then we feel really complete. But I think if we don’t, there’s gonna be a part of us that’s not feeling well integrated, and if bad things have happened to us in our birth that made us really uncomfortable, that connection deepens the trauma if we don’t follow the physiologic cues. 

Lozada: Right, and these are things that all happen even… Regardless of the birth you have. If you have a beautiful birth or a flowing birth with no interventions, and everything’s going smooth, even under those circumstances, because birth is such a big body event, that there’s a baby going through your pelvis, it’s still kind of… Not mentally traumatic, but like physically in the definition of trauma. 

Everest: It’s a big deal. Yeah. 

Lozada: Yeah. So, you still need to down regulate and integrate no matter the birth. 

Everest: Totally. Totally. I mean, we do it in sex, as well, right? It’s really fascinating to me how as above, so below. So, honoring all of those wonderful, beautiful, different ways there are to get pregnant these days if you kind of break it down into the basic, natural things. Sort of the same arc of experience that it might take to create a new life, it’s the same sort of arc of experience that helps to get the baby out when we’re looking at the rise of oxytocin and the shifts in behavior, and then the need for a bonding process afterwards. 

So, I really like to use those two events and sort of overlay them on each other to just see how we are missing out on the birth part if we don’t leverage that down regulation period. 

Lozada: So, let’s talk about the sex part, because that’s something that most people are familiar with. 

Everest: Yeah. You know what? Some people who have given birth never have had sexual experiences. You can have asexual folks who get pregnant. So, this is like really just breaking it down to the very basic, so I don’t want to feel I’m leaving anybody out. Also, I’m kind of careful when we talk about sex in relation to birth, because I know for some people, that could be traumatic. Some people have a hard time coupling those things together. So, I’m saying this with awareness, so I’m gonna just kind of put it in a purely physiological way. 

Lozada: Right. 

Everest: Yeah, so if we kind of look at the stages of labor, we have the latent phase, we have the active phase, we have the birthing phase, and then we have the third stage afterwards. When we look at a sexual experience, we have the arousal stage. If I’m just referring to Masters and Johnson, super basic, and very super limited sexual response chart, that’s what I’m gonna use today. If we look at their response, the sexual response chart, we have arousal, which I feel can be sort of overlaid upon the latent part of labor. Then we have the plateau phase, which is when we’re really going for it, right? So, this would be more like active labor. And then the orgasm, if you will, would be the birthing part of labor, and then the third stage of labor, we could look at that overlayed with the resolution period and even longer after birth. 

So, when we look at this, we can see how the body and the oxytocin sort of work in the same way. Obviously, birth is much bigger and more intense, and the sensations are generally very different. I’m just kind of speaking about the arc of experience. So, when our oxytocin is rising, especially at the beginning of a sexual experience or the beginning of birth, what we start to notice is that people are still aware. They’re more embodied. They’re feeling things happening in their bodies and that sensation is getting stronger and stronger, but when we move into the active phase of labor, or the plateau phase of the sexual experience, this is where we really see the deep brainwave shift that goes really, really deep. 

This is kind of where all of the beautiful, intuitive stuff starts to happen. This oxytocin that is releasing into the body at a really high rate right now in both of these experiences is generally creating a deep sense of trust and a desire to connect with the people that we are with. And also, at this point in birth and in sex, we tend to be really uninhibited, which in birth I feel is an incredibly protective, kind gift, because you know when we talk about the possibility of pooping to a pregnant person, it’s kind of horrific to think about that. But when we are kind of full of oxytocin and endorphins, our inhibitions tend to go away. 

Lozada: Yeah. They have like a very… The focus narrows of what… Your visual and your auditory and everything narrows into what’s at hand and you go really deep into… Yeah, it’s not that you don’t know what’s going on around you, but you choose to… I gotta get down to business, and this is the business I gotta get down to. 

Everest: Yep. Not really caring, because like you said so beautifully, the focus is just really narrowed, so we don’t care as much about being seen, and also we’re very trusting, and it’s really important just to pause there, because when we are altered in states like this, when we are seeking to bond, when we are naked, and vulnerable, and uninhibited, this is incredibly important for birth to go in a really good way, because it means our hormones are working well. We can also see how birth can be ripe for trauma. I think birthing folks, when people are talking about their experience, there’s a lot of judgment. It’s like, “Well, you had a healthy baby, and everything went well, and other people in the world are dying in childbirth, so we’re kind of really lucky to have had that experience.” 

Yes, but also our experiences are our experiences, and they’re really valid, and it’s quite amazing to unpack how many people have experienced trauma in the birthing process. Just to kind of illuminate that while we’re going through the process, because it’s something I never want to forget to say. 

Lozada: And how important it is for the people you choose to have around you and the care providers that are with you. 

Everest: Right? So important to sort of know. This is why the evidence-based stuff becomes important, is because there’s choices you can make and discuss with your care provider before you go into this space… This is where the other people in the room can pick up where your hopes and dreams are and begin to advocate for you when you are too open and in the zone to do it for yourself. 

All right, so back to a normal, wonderfully unfolding physiology birth. So, once that baby, once we’re going into second stage, there’s this really lovely time that between full dilation and actual expulsion of the baby, where we’re kind of waiting for the babies to get really low in the pelvis, [inaudible 0:11:50.4] or something like that, and then rotate on the pelvic floor so that the head begins to extend. That is really what characterizes the second part of the second stage of labor, like when the body begins to push. It’s not even you who are doing it. It’s the body and the baby are pushing up. 

So, this is kind of what would be the climax of the birth experience, and also the sexual experience. Very often, we hear a lot of noises going on that are uncontrollable, and the body is sort of heaving to achieve the end of this experience. And so, I’ve always found it really interesting, and Adriana, as a doula, you probably have seen this. When a baby emerges, not everybody does this, but how often you hear that really high pitched cry at the end when a baby comes through the pelvis, comes through the vaginal opening. Do you hear that a lot? 

Lozada: Oh yeah. As the head is emerging, you get this… 

Everest: Yeah. It’s that high, high pitched shriek, and I’ve often wondered about that. On a physiologic and evolutionary level, why do we do that? Well, I mean very often when people are having an orgasm at the end of a sexual experience, there are these great cries that happen. And I’m wondering if birth givers do that so that they’re sort of keeping their energy up higher and maybe not pushing into their bottoms as much, which might potentially be helping to prevent a bad tearing experience. 

Lozada: Well, and I appreciate that. A lot of these things that you are looking at and that I’m looking at is we see something happen often enough that doesn’t have “an explanation.” But when you see all sorts of people from all sorts of life under the same circumstances doing the same thing, then you have to start to ask like what’s the reason behind this, right? Because on a biological level, our bodies tend to be economical. They don’t like to do something just for doing it. 

Everest: I had a client once who was doing her master’s degree in music therapy, and we were talking about this high pitched sound that people make at the end of the birth, and she gave me a really interesting bit of information. She said that that crazy, wild sounds resonates in the pituitary gland and releases more oxytocin and more endorphins when it is that wild, high pitched sound, because it resonates in that top chamber of the cranium. So, we see this also in the orgasmic response in a sexual experience. 

In French, they actually call orgasm la petite mort, which means the little death, because we lose ourselves so much. We’re swept up in the sensation. And as the baby emerges, just that little death, it’s almost like ego dies to itself for just a little moment, and then emerges again integrated as a parent. And so, that takes the sound, physiologic and nervous systems shift, to integrate the immensity and the intensity of that experience. And so, this is sort of what brings us to the third stage of labor, or the resolution period, or afterglow. 

Lozada: I love how you said the ego dies and then it emerges again as a parent, like that is profound. So then, it’s time for resolution. What usually… What needs to happen at a body level? 

Everest: I love that question. That’s the most important question. What needs to happen? So, I think it’s allowing the expression of our fullest power in our unique way is important, and to not assume that somebody is making that sound because they’re terrified or need to be controlled. So, that would be for the birth, and now we come to the resolution. What often happens in a hospital birth is that the positionality of the birth giver is usually such that their baby needs to be handed to them immediately, because there’s kind of nowhere else for the baby to go. There’s this very sort of quick impetus to, “Here! Take your baby! Oh, here’s your baby! Here, open your arms! Grab your baby!” And to very prematurely pull people out of that deep delta brainwave shift. So, what needs to happen is everybody needs to slow down. There is a natural pause that occurs between giving birth and claiming our parenthood. And if this is not honored and it is too rushed, and we take somebody out of that nervous system completion prematurely, then I think we risk people walking around after their birth feeling really unintegrated and very jangly, so it’s just like after the sexual experience, this resolution period is in place for there to be a period of quiet, of coming back down, of tissue healing. There’s actually tissue healing that happens at a high rate in this place. And a really big opportunity for bonding after such an intimate event as a sexual experience. 

So, same with giving birth. We need to give the parents, and if they have other parents, partners around them, the ability to claim and welcome their baby in their own space. I think this is really good for everybody. I think the fear is that everybody is going to bleed and there’s all these protocols in place, but what if in all of this fear of getting it done quickly, we’re actually violating the normal high of oxytocin, contributing to the bleeding? That’s a thought that I’ve had. 

So, on a nervous system level, it’s not just that. We need to protect the physiology of third stage in a really big way, because this is the most vulnerable stage for the birth giver. So, let’s say all of these things that need to happen for physiologic third stage are happening. The baby arrives and nobody is yelling, “Take your baby!” I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen have their baby plopped on them look scared, like… and then feel guilt after, because-

Lozada: Me included. That-

Everest: Right? They didn’t feel what they thought they should feel. I felt that with my first child, and I had a home birth. That baby was plopped onto my chest right away and my first thought was, “I’m scared!” Because I’d had a long, hard delivery. She was a face-up baby and it was long and hard, and I think my nervous system needed a minute. And I quickly integrated, but I’ll never forget how kind of… The violins weren’t playing in that moment. The angels weren’t singing. And I thought that that was something wrong with me. But it wasn’t. I just needed a minute. And so, if we can follow the directive of the birth giver, I think we’re gonna support them a lot better. 

What you will see is that the parent will usually not pick up the baby right away. It’s gonna be this moment… Some do, and that’s perfectly fine if that is your directive. If that’s directed by you and you automatically pick your baby up and put it to the breast right away because that is your imperative, that is perfect. But a lot of parents need more time. So, what happens now for the parent is they’re sort of back consciously. They’ve come back from delta brainwaves. They’re maybe now more in alpha brainwaves, and body, and overwhelmed from the experience. If we just give them the space, what will often happen within the first hour or so, this is the coolest thing. They will often start to shake. They sometimes shake really, really hard, and I feel like this shaking is the signal that this whole crazy, wild birth experience is integrating. 

And not everybody needs to shake, but I feel it’s very, very common, so that shaking is important. Very often in a hospital birth we go, “Oh, you’re cold.” And we try to warm them. But actually, we need to let people shake, because that is how the nervous system down regulates and integrates that experience. 

Lozada: And it brings a whole different meaning to the phrase shake it off. So, Lesley, what can people do to support those physiological needs within the context of a managed birth setting which is most likely what they will experience? 

Everest: Yes. It’s actually… I find in my experience that if you’re a birth supporter, a birth giver, a birth supporter, a birth partner, bringing this up. Just talking about this physiologic nervous system opportunity, checking in to see if this is something the birth giver wants, and then if they do, making it part of their birth preferences that maybe they’re bringing to the hospital, that they ask for the room to be quiet, and that if that is broken, that maybe the partner, or the care provider, can just hold the baby against the thigh where can stay warm, but give space for the birth giver to down regulate and take the baby at their time. But the room does not have, “Take your baby! Oh my gosh! It’s a boy! It’s a girl!” And have that sort of loud bustling. You can ask for quiet. It is very hard for a staff to maintain that quiet for a long time, because they have a lot of things to do, but I have found that at least for a good minute or two after, there’s been a lot of acquiescence to that. Just ask them for quiet. 

And there have been times where I’ve had people who were of the Muslim religion and they said, “Actually, it’s part of our tradition to have the father be the first person to say any words in the room.” So, I mean you could say that it is a spiritual belief, that you just want the first words to the baby to be from the parents. So, asking for silence, as simple as that, can be really, really helpful. So, depending on what is going on, creating a little privacy shield for them and just asking for quiet, and it’s not that we want to abandon our presence from the birth giver, because sometimes they will look at you in the shaky, shaky, right, with, “Are we okay?” So, this is where we want to engage the ventral vagal nerves with social engagement. We look at them and we smile, we nod, we go, “This is amazing. This is exactly what is supposed to happen. You just go with it.” 

That supportive environment can help reflect back to them that they’re safe and that they’re well. 

Lozada: And when you were talking about putting the baby next to the thigh, one of the things that I also… that can be a helpful position with this integration and giving parents the minute they need to lead their experience is I see often when parents give birth in the hands and knees position, because there’s no chest to put baby on. 

Everest: I’ve seen this twice in a hospital, in hands and knees position, and what the care provider did is they didn’t ask the birth giver to turn around. They actually just scooched the baby through from between the legs and up towards, so the birth giver has enough of like a reflex to kind of make some room for the baby, but then they just sort of curl around the baby. And I’ve seen that in silence until the birth giver took the baby, so they don’t actually necessarily need to turn around and go on their chest. The baby can just sort of be scooched to arm level, like threaded through, and can be cleaned when they’re ready. And it’s been so beautiful to witness this. I think this needs to be a new emergence in birth practices, is to allow for the nervous system completion of birth, for birth giver and for baby. 

Lozada: Well, and then know you can also afterwards, if you so choose, create a recreation of the moment to allow… Who is it that says just get in a warm bathtub with your newborn? And both of you are naked. Or in a bed. You don’t have to be in the water. And just hang out. Just hang out. 

Everest: Just hang out. 

Lozada: And think about it. 

Everest: And babies will show you. Babies will show you their own completion very often. They’ll be in one place. They’ll show you their birth dynamics. Like they’ll be in one place, they’ll turn their head, and then they’ll cry, and they’ll have a big story. Let them do it, right? And then they’ll turn around in other ways and they’ll react. This is all their way of helping to release some of their cranial nerves and exercise their orienting impulses. 

I feel like on a nervous system level, birth is done for baby once they self latch. And that doesn’t always happen. 

Lozada: So, recreate that self latching. Yeah. 

Everest: Recreate self latching. For baby, on a nervous system level, yeah. That’s when it tends to finish. Because that’s when they’re orienting everything, and they’re doing their crawling thing, and they’re reconnecting to their heart, right? And it doesn’t have to necessarily… Self latch doesn’t have to necessarily be the full-on breast crawl. For a baby just to be lying in the crook of their parent’s arms and it’s kind of finding the nipple themselves. It’s good for them. Instead of, “Here, I’ll take your breast and connect it to your baby’s mouth.” Maybe we don’t want to do that so much. 

Lozada: Neither the baby nor the parent is learning anything if that’s done that way. 

Everest: Nope. Nope. 

Lozada: No. Lesley, this has been such a fun, fabulous talk. Thank you so much for doing this today. 

Everest: My pleasure. 

Lozada: Yeah. If people-

Everest: Thank you so much. 

Lozada: Yeah. If people want to connect with you and follow what you’re doing or ask you more questions, how can they do that? 

Everest: You can always email me, info@motherwit.ca. My website is www.motherwit.ca. And I train doulas all over the place. 

Lozada: Thank you so very much. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you. 

Everest: Such an honor to be here. I love your work. You’re doing such important work. Blessings on it. May it continue in great success and prosperity for you. 

Lozada: You’ve been listening to a Best of Birthful episode. To listen to the original longer version of this episode, click on the link in the show notes. And there are many more where this came from. Look for episodes with the words Best of Birthful in the title to continue your deep dive to inform your intuition. You can find the in-depth show notes for this episode at birthful.com. You can also connect with us directly on Instagram. We’re @birthfulpodcast. 

Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of Lantigua Williams & Co. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco. Virginia Lora is the managing producer. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer. Alie Kilts contributed to the production of the Best Of Birthful series. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen. Listen every week for more ways to inform your intuition.   


Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Best Of Birthful] Why Uncontrollable Shaking Is an Important Part of Birth.” Birthful, Lantigua Williams & Co., January 4, 2022. Birthful.com.



Lesley Everest, a white-presenting person, is wearing a black t-shirt and gazing directly at the camera with her straight silver hair cascading in front of her face

Image description: Lesley Everest, a white-presenting person, is wearing a black t-shirt and gazing directly at the camera with her straight silver hair cascading in front of her face

About Lesley Everest

Experienced doula Lesley Everest is the founder of MotherWit Doula Care in Montreal and Ottawa, Canada as well as MotherWit Birth and Postpartum Doula Training which she teaches around North America. Lesley’s education and professional background in many forms of somatic/emotional support therapies and interspiritual ministry informs her work as well as her own birth and parenting experiences of four kids. Birth continues to be Lesley’s best teacher. She believes a family’s birth journey matters deeply, serving as a transformational event that has the power to shape early parenting and impact the health of our nervous systems. Lesley’s diplomatic and collaborative nature has made her a sought after speaker in the North American birth conference circuits, as well as a facilitator of workshops geared towards skills building for medical care providers.

You can find Lesley on Instagram @reverend_doula

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