The human body is an amazing thing, especially when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. But there is much that scientists still don’t understood about how we operate—like how is it that a woman’s contractions get stronger as labor progresses, despite the rest of her body getting weaker from lack of oxygen, blood loss and sheer exhaustion?
New research out of the University of Liverpool in the UK is helping to explain exactly how a woman’s body can do this amazing feat: through something called hypoxia-induced force increase (HIFI), which occurs in the uterine muscles as a result of lack of blood supply and oxygen. It essentially means that the body kicks into high gear when resources are low. And it has a protective effect on the process of labor, allowing a woman to progress despite being low on blood and air.
Wonder Woman mode
This key finding, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seems to indicate that a woman’s body goes into Wonder Woman mode during labor, similar to when the heart experiences hypoxic preconditioning to protect it from oxygen loss. It’s especially valuable knowledge when labor can carry on for seemingly endless hours and given that some women can become insensitive to oxytocin, the hormone that helps stimulate contractions.
“During labors, the womb contracts and relaxes intermittently and vigorously until the baby passes through the birth canal safely. However, with each womb contraction, the oxygen supplying it would decrease briefly and increase again during the womb being relaxed. This process of contraction/relaxation and intermittent decrease in oxygen would initiate a mechanism inside the womb itself to protect its power from weak contractions that are not enough to push the baby out,” says study author Mohammed Alotaibi, Ph.D.
A reduction in prolonged labors
The hope is that this new research into an important uterine trigger can help move along difficult, prolonged labors, thereby reducing the need for emergency C-sections.
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