Are Pregnant Women Subconsciously Avoiding Giving Birth on Halloween?

By Veronique Greenwood | October 31, 2011 1:13 pm

C-section and induced births dipped or spiked on
Halloween and Valentine’s Day…but so, intriguingly, did natural births.

With the rise of cesarean sections and scheduled births, it’s no surprise that expectant mothers might favor some dates over others for their children’s births. But a recent study drawing on US birth certificates from a ten-year period suggests that even with natural, spontaneous births, the mother may be able exert some kind of control over when she goes into labor. The team found that there were about 5% fewer births on Halloween and about 4% more on Valentine’s Day than there were on any day in the surrounding two weeks.

The researchers think that the frightening connotations of Halloween—skeletons, zombies, and so on—as experienced by the mother might be enough to affect the hormones that control labor, putting the birth off (and vice versa when it comes to the positive connotations of Valentine’s Day). But the specific biological connection between a mother’s holiday-influenced emotional state and labor is still an open question.

In cultures that don’t celebrate Halloween and Valentine’s Day but consider other days particularly auspicious or inauspicious, does this effect also happen? Inquiring minds want to know.

[via New Scientist]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Bee

    I’m not sure it’s subconscious. There are ways to induce labor that don’t require admission to a hospital (e.g. stretch & sweep). These are not very effective by and large, but may be effective enough to cause a bump in the birth rate. Don’t have any good data though.

  • Veronique Greenwood

    @Bee, yeah, you’re right–this data set doesn’t include any information about other labor-inducing actions women took, so it’s possible that some of them induced labor on their own in order to avoid Halloween. The study, because of its limited data set, can’t address the question of consciousness.

    Would you expect, though, a rise in births the day before Halloween, or in the week before, if that were the case?

  • John

    Valentine’s Day is generally celebrated during the day and early evening with a lover. Halloween is generally celebrated either with live, present kids or as a party that goes late into the night (and technically into November 1st). I don’t know how this would correlate to birth, but it would make sense that couples are generally conceiving, at least, more during the actual date of Valentine’s Day and one calendar day after Halloween. I know that’s not what this graph is discussing but worth mentioning, maybe?

  • Amy

    Perhaps this is a revelation, but some people want to give birth on Halloween. 19 years ago I was due on Oct 25. Despite going into labor on Wednesday, I managed to hold my son in (or more accurately, he refused to come out) until 4:44 a.m. on Saturday – Halloween. There was even a full moon! It has been awesome having his birthday on Halloween – the fun and the parties were extra-special. A Halloween birthday has been tremendously good for us. Nobody ever forgets his birthday!

  • Gil

    @3 but gestation isn’t a year long, so of what relevance is that?

  • MadMarx

    @4 – really ?? Feb 14 + 9 months = ??
    yep November, and not everyone gets it on ON Feb 14 :o)
    I think 3 has a point

  • amber

    Probably the OB’s. More and more are recommending/pushing inductions and c-sections on women that might give birth on a holiday.

  • Hmm

    I’d rather be born on Halloween…

  • Holly

    Interesting but not surprising really. Firstly, often women certainly do have a subconscious level of control over when they give birth. Of course it’s not faultless and sometimes women do give birth at very impractical times, but a woman will often hold on until her husband or doula is back from a trip away, or until she has finished painting the nursery, or until her mother has arrived, or until she’s finished ‘nesting’, or whatever. However in this case I doubt very much that this is a case of women wanting to give birth on Valentines Day or not wanting to give birth on Halloween. I don’t think either of those dates are that significant and it would be more interesting to see data on, say, Christmas Day or women’s own birthdays. In this instance I think this has a fairly logical explanation… it is simply a question of hormones.

    Oxytocin – natures ‘love hormone’ that is excreted when we’re feeling loving or engaging in any kind of romantic/sexual behaviour – plays a vital role in stimulating contractions. That’s why things like nipple/clitoral stimulation and kissing can help move labour along, and is a part of why sex at the end of pregnancy can help (though there is more to the benefits of sex than just oxytocin). Syntocinon/pitocin (depending on where you’re from) – the drug they use use to induce/augment labour – is artifical oxytocin. So, since many couples tend to make extra effort to spend time with one another and possibly engage in more romantic activities on that day, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination to draw a link here.

    As for Halloween, while I doubt that there are a particularly significiant number of people who are literally scared of ghosts/ghouls/whatever on this day more than any other time (though I’m sure there are some), more practical things – such as possibly stress brought on by trick or treaters… or perhaps adrenaline-inducing excitement brought on by a Halloween party – can be responsible for the release of types of hormones called catecholamines. These can put us in a state of ‘fight or flight’ syndrome – where oxygenated blood is diverted towards our limbs and bodily functions not necessary to immediate survival (such as digestion, or childbirth!) are slowed down or even paused. So again, given that adrenaline is a catecholamine, it’s no stretch of the imagination that an event such as Halloween, which may cause excitement for some and stress for others, may be responsible for a dip in childbirth numbers that day.

  • http://none Amy

    I was born naturally on halloween in 91.


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