The making of Groaning cake, during labour is an ancient tradition said to be of Cornish origin, although our friends across the water will also tell you that it originates from the ‘Deep South’ of America, and many other cultures around the world have similar traditions.
Old wives’ tales suggest that the scent of baking Groaning cake can reduce a laboring woman’s pain and some say that if a woman ‘breaks eggs while labouring’ it can even make her labour shorter. In some cultures it is also believed that to encourage a family’s prosperity and fertility, the father should pass pieces of this cake to friends and family after the baby is born.
BUT, is it only an old wives’ tale, OR is there some truth in it?
I’m not sure about the prosperity and fertility, but I would tend to agree with those claims about less painful and shorter labours due to physical and emotional benefits, and I’ll tell you my thoughts on why…
A woman who is distracted by baking a cake is not focusing on her labour, therefore not becoming nervous or fearful. Being fearful kicks in the ‘Fight or Flight’ response, which releases the hormone Adrenaline into the body, which in turn can slow or even stop labour. When Adrenaline is in the system your body diverts oxygenated blood away from all the areas of your body which is not used to fight or to run, such as the digestive, endocrine and reproductive systems including the uterus which then causes the muscles of the uterus to cramp, thereby causing more discomfort. You certainly don’t want stomach cramps on top of the muscles contracting and releasing.
I think we are all aware at some level that baking is a therapeutic distraction which has some kind of warm, homely feeling, that for many brings back beautiful nostalgic memories of our mothers and grandmothers, am I right? One of my favourite memories of being a kid is the smell of freshly baked cakes when I went to my Nan’s. Why it is such a fond memory is because I knew that she had baked because I was coming, which made me feel very special and loved. I also fondly remember ‘licking the bowl’ when making cakes with my Mum, I cherish those special times with her when I was a child. These lovely memories, and warm feelings can raise the levels of Oxytocin in your body. Oxytocin is the ‘love hormone’ which give us a natural euphoria, it also promotes regular and effective surges (contractions). High levels of Oxytocin also encourages the release of Endorphins, our body’s natural pain relief and ‘Feel good’ hormones. We definitely want some of those!
A purely physical benefit is that whilst baking, the laboring woman is upright and slightly forward, which encourages the baby’s head to put gentle pressure on the cervix which can encourage it to soften, open and release more quickly. She is also making energetic movements with her core muscles, which feels a little like ‘rebozo sifting’ or ‘shaking the apples’, which are two doula tricks used to help loosen the muscles around the pelvis.
So for me, YES, I feel there may be some truth in these ‘old wives’ tales’
The by-product of making a Groaning cake is that with it being packed full of nutrients and slow releasing carbohydrates, it offers long lasting energy for labour. Then beyond the labour, it’s a delicious, quick to eat, nutritious snack for the mother in the first few days of the post natal period. The added bonus, if the plan is a home birth, is it’s also something to keep the midwife sweet 🙂 Any leftovers can be given to visitors to celebrate the arrival of the baby…. Who knows, you may even get the benefits of fertility and prosperity… I’ve an open mind on that one, have you?
Here is my version of Groaning Cake, it’s full of fruit and nuts for nutrition and carbohydrates for energy.
350grms Self Raising Flour (or use plain flour plus 2 tsp Baking powder)
1tsp of Baking soda
½ tsp ginger (helps with nausea)
½ tsp Nutmeg
2 apples, peeled and grated
3 large eggs
110ml of Sunflower, Avocado, Coconut or Almond oil (to your taste)
110ml of Pineapple or Orange juice (to your taste)
50ml Treacle or Honey (to your taste, honey provides immunostimulants)
300grms Brown Sugar (to your taste, light or muscvado)
100grms Chopped dates
100grms Chopped mixed nuts, almonds, pecans or walnuts.
1tsp Vanilla extract
Sift the flour, baking soda and spices together.
Add the grated apple and chopped dates and stir.
Beat the eggs until frothy then add the oil, juice, treacle or honey and sugar.
Stir this in with the dry ingredients and mix well.
Sprinkle in the nuts & vanilla extract and stir.
Place into your choice of lined or floured loaf tins or muffin tins.
Bake in a moderately hot oven at 350F / 200C / Gas mark 6 for 35-40 minutes.
Leave to cool and then…
Enjoy… The cake AND your birth!