The Oxytocin dance during labour. What is Oxytocin and why is it so important?

There is a wonderful cocktail of hormones which gets released into the body during the process of labour, all activities within the body are dictated by the secretion of hormones. There is an intricate balance of hormones necessary to trigger labour and birth. Not only do these hormones create the physical functions like expansion of birth canal and muscle contractions but also the emotional and mental state of the mother. The real star of the show though has to be Oxytocin or the “love hormone” and here’s why:

The exact definition is the following: Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, a P sized structure at the base of the brain. Oxytocin is a complex hormone that affects us in almost every area of our lives.

This wonderful hormone isn’t just present at the time of birth but is present with us throughout our lives helping us to form strong emotional bonds with the ones we love. The more we produce the better we feel. Oxytocin leads to feelings of calm, wellbeing, patience, lower blood pressure, better digestion and healing.  During the end of pregnancy high levels of Estrogen increase the Oxytocin receptors in the brain not only to trigger the uterine contractions but also to promote the maternal instinct and feelings of love for your baby – also part of the nesting process! Isn’t the body amazing!

Throughout labor, Oxytocin pulses into the bloodstream causing contractions, it is also Oxytocin which triggers the longitudinal muscles to gently pull open the circular muscles of the cervix. Oxytocin will peak at the moment of birth and once baby has been put on Mama’s chest, the power of Oxytocin that flows between the mother, father and their baby is almost palpable and has a significant effect on bonding. Oxytocin continues to show its face after labor to help Mama’s uterus contract to original size and again each time she brings baby to the breast. This keeps her relaxed and in love with baby.

Now all 3 stages of birth are dependent on the adequate secretion of Oxytocin. Unfortunately the release of adrenalin will suppress Oxytocin release. This is why it is so vitally important to have a safe, comfortable birthing environment with no intrusions. It is also important that the room is nice and warm as a cold environment will increase adrenalin production due to cold stress in the body. Even after birth Oxytocin levels must remain high so that high levels of Prolactin can be released, Mama is then physiologically stimulated to nurse and love her baby. Any bleeding is minimised as the contracting uterine muscles act to tie off blood vessels or act as living ligature. The body can also start to produce breastmilk.

During birth the flow of Oxytocin also triggers the release of endorphins. The feel-good hormones are beta-endorphins and these hormones effect the brain the same way morphine does. They reduce the intensity of pain in the human body by naturally blocking pain signals. By the time baby is ready to be born a woman’s body is so full of endorphins that many of the sensations are numbed or less intense thanks to our star hormone!

So simply put make sure when you are planning your birth that you do all you can to make sure you are warm, comfortable and with no needless intrusions or disturbances – let the love hormone dance!