You may have just had the ‘Birth Talk’ at antenatal class; picked up a book and glanced at the chapter on labour and birth; or you may have been discussing your preferences for birth with your midwife, I bet amongst all that info you heard or read something about Oxytocin and its ‘feel good’ effects on birth? But now you are sat scratching your head thinking Oxy-what?
You are heavily pregnant and its hot in here, the only bit of info you have retained in the last hour of rambling/discussion on birth are contractions, pain relief options and then a baby is born! Lets wind back, this sort of info is important and worth knowing and needs feeding in slowly or it will just drop out of the other ear! So what is it? What’s it got to do with having a baby?
Warning, this is the boring science bit…
This busy little hormone has two main actions in your childbearing body; It not only promotes contractions during labour (Imagine a little cheerleader in there waving pompoms) but also aids lactation for breastfeeding. These handy little ‘Cheerleaders’ work to not only stimulate contractions but also to increase the contractions further by producing prostaglandins. Then they shake those pompoms and kick up those legs during breastfeeding stimulating the breasts to produce milk for you to feed your baby. Wow! Sounds important!
If you need it, we can give you some! In the event that your body and baby have decided not to bother to go in to labour naturally after you waiting patiently for months; artificial oxytocin is sometimes offered to induce labour in the form of syntocinon. It is also often offered to speed up birth of the placenta (3rd stage). So its important stuff and we need to produce it in heaps to not only get our labours going but to keep them going to the end!
What more can this amazing hormone possibly do?
In our brains, oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger and has been shown to be important in human behaviours including sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety and mother-infant bonding. As a result, oxytocin has been called the ‘love hormone’ or even the ‘cuddle chemical’. So feeling good and loved during pregnancy will increase the production further, helping you to engage in bonding with your new baby. Even simply interacting with a baby causes not only your own oxytocin Cheerleaders to get excited and flow but also your baby’s levels to increase. Happy mum, happy baby! Waving Pompoms!!
This super hormone also does a lot for the continuation of our species! Even though most women will remember their birth experiences quite well, the details may be a little fuzzy with time. Many women feel joyful or bursting with energy after labour even in the event things didn’t go quite to plan, which can be in part due to our friendly oxytocin as it helps to reduce the stress producing cortisol levels and increases the ‘feel good’ factor. This all helps to keep those horrid stress related cortisol levels at bay which is an extremely important part of safe, happy birthing and raises that little ‘Love drug‘ further. This all ultimately helps you to decide to have another baby! And so our species goes on and on..and..
So if you read between the lines, we can produce more of this fun and friendly hormone by feeling loved, relaxed and confident during our pregnancy, birth and beyond. All pointing to a good experience so you will wish to have another go with number 2, 3.…4...too many?
Before I leave you to absorb all this science whilst sitting and imagining hundreds of Cheerleaders jumping around doing the Cancan in your body, consider this as a bonus point; bonds between couples are also said to be strengthened by the production of oxytocin so cuddling and love in pregnancy, birth and beyond is surely a must for any couple and their baby.
So why the pic of a dog in a featherboa? This is a photo of my 'Cheerleader' Benji the Dog, he is never worried, always happy, and enjoys spreading the love! And lastly here's Charlie, a reminder of what this is all about, this cute and cuddly baby is enough to raise anyones oxytocin levels!
Oxytocin is pretty amazing stuff! Bring on the love and cuddles...