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Oxytocin: The hormone that will help you love your birth

Feb 02, 2019
You may have heard of oxytocin by its more common name ‘the love hormone’. If you’re about to have a baby, it’s essential to have an understanding of this incredible hormone. It is responsible for the loving feeling we get when cuddled. It is involved with love-making, childbirth, breastfeeding and bonding. In childbirth, oxytocin helps the uterus to contract to help dilate the cervix. It also helps with the safe birth of the placenta.
 
It is a fundamental part of giving birth. So much so, that doctors have created a synthetic version called syntocinon or pitocin. If a woman isn’t producing enough natural oxytocin, it may be given in labour to either initiate things (induction) or to get things moving along quicker (augmentation).
 
Synthetic oxytocin is commonly given in the the third stage of labour to help with the delivery of the placenta. Although, just to be clear, it is not essential to have. If a woman feels safe and the birth has progressed normally, she will release her own natural oxytocin which will assist the safe delivery of the placenta.
 
In postpartum, oxytocin helps with bonding with the baby and the milk ‘let-down’ reflex in breastfeeding. It helps mothers have more emotional sensitivity, be able to read non-verbal cues better and it helps with multi-tasking. Oxytocin also plays a role in helping us connect with others. A great asset to have, particularly as you’ll need to ask for help more in the first six weeks after birth.
 
During labour, here are some ways to help boost oxytocin levels:
  • Creating a private, safe, warm and dimly lit space
  • Massage and loving touch
  • Nipple stimulation
  • Loving words
It’s good to be aware that some things may inhibit the release of oxytocin. Try to minimise the following: stress, fear/anxiety, too much rational thinking and being hungry or cold.
 
Many years ago I was supporting a mother who was in the midst of labour and in a really good rhythm. It was obvious she was progressing well and contractions were coming every few minutes. The environment was dimly lit and she was vocalising a little to help cope with the strong sensations.
 
An unknown obstetrician walked into the bathroom to observe her progress. All of a sudden her labour slowed down to the point where contractions stopped coming. This was one of the first times I saw how sensitive oxytocin is. The mere presence of a stranger observing sent a little wave of adrenalin into the mothers bloodstream and her body felt it was no longer a safe place to birth. So, labour stopped. It was incredible to watch. I was surprised what a difference it made. Privacy and the feeling of safety is paramount when it comes to giving birth.
 
Even though logically, the mother probably knew she was still safe. Her body felt otherwise.
 
This is a great example of why not disturbing the birthing woman is essential. She needs to feel safe in order for birth to flow.
 
So, I encourage you to take these things into consideration when creating your birth space. Set up a place that feels safe and secure, has warmth and minimal lighting. Make sure the people supporting you are aware of how to increase oxytocin naturally. And get a plan in place for after you have your baby so you can continue to enjoy the benefits of feeling loved and nurtured.

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