So, it’s October and Halloween is just a few weeks away! You’re thinking about costume ideas, maybe planning a party and, oh yeah, you’re doing your darndest not to give birth on the creepiest day of the year, a holiday that some say celebrates paganism.
“But wait, what does Halloween Day have to do with giving birth? Or any day, for that matter? Don’t women just have babies when the time comes?” Well, apparently not, because, according to researchers at Yale, women can and do choose to avoid bringing their babies into the world concurrently with the “Festival of the Dead.”
I’m not just talking C-sections — the phenomenon inexplicably holds true for C-sections and spontaneous births. And Halloween isn’t the only holiday that has women strongly influencing their birth timing, either. This research ultimately leaves me with more questions than answers, but sometimes that’s the best kind of science.
Ah, Valentine’s Day, a sweet day of love, right? Even if you’re woefully single, you can at least imagine the love that a mother has for her child, which certainly has a positive connotation. Flowers, cards, and candy also don’t hurt this day’s reputation.
But Halloween? Sure, it’s fun from ages 3-13 (and then again after 21…), but on some level, you can’t help but worry about whether your house is going to get egged or toilet papered. And despite the candy, let’s be honest — witches and death are not inherently warm and fuzzy concepts.
So, going on the logic that Valentine’s Day has a positive cultural representation and Halloween has a negative one, these scientists set out to see whether the perceptions of these days could influence births — even spontaneous births, which have been considered beyond a pregnant woman’s control. [The benefit of studying these days is that they have strong cultural participation, but doctors are generally present at work; this is in contrast to, say, Christmas, where the connotations might be positive, but doctors are on vacation.]
Using 10-years’ worth of U.S. birth certificate data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics, the researchers focused on the two-week period spanning Valentine’s Day and Halloween. The results are straight-forward and don’t need much preamble:
Natural and C-section births jumped significantly on Valentine’s Day, with the overall increased likelihood of giving birth being calculated at 5% for the day of love.
Halloween, on the other hand? Different story:
All types of births — natural, C-section, induced — decreased significantly on All Hallows’ Eve. Overall, a whopping 11.3% decrease in births was seen on this day across the years. That’s a pretty clear indicator that women don’t want their babies associated with hauntings and horror.
Okay, so the numbers are definitive. But how could women exert control over when they give birth?! The short answer is that no one has any idea. The closest that these authors come to suggesting a psychophysiological mechanism is to say that wanting to give birth on Valentine’s Day and resisting giving birth on Halloween could, for a short time, alter the hormonal mechanisms responsible for determining birth timing.
More work needs to be done to understand the biology of how this is happening and I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes of this area of study.
Levy BR, Chung PH, & Slade MD (2011). Influence of Valentine’s Day and Halloween on Birth Timing. Social science & medicine (1982), 73 (8), 1246-8 PMID: 21880409