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Oxytocin: The Secret Ingredient for an Easier Birth

molecular structure of an oxytocin molecule

This Valentine's day presents the perfect opportunity to explore the love hormone - Oxytocin! Hormones are chemical messengers that control processes in the human body, and this incredible hormone plays a key role in mood, bonding, sexual arousal, lactation and perhaps most importantly for this post, birth. Let's take a deep dive into the function of oxytocin and how this special molecule choreographs the miraculous process of bringing life into the world.

The chances are at some point in your life you have felt the effects of oxytocin. Maybe it was a heart-fluttering gaze into the eyes of a partner, a warm glow as you held your child in your arms, or a reassuring sense of belonging when spending time with a treasured friend. With various manifestations, oxytocin is like the VIP pass to feelings of trust, affection, and a bond so strong it could make even Cupid jealous. But oxytocin isn't just for romance; it's at the centre of social interactions, promoting empathy, trust, cooperation, and acts of kindness. In short, it's a key component of what makes us social beings.

The Versatile Hormone

floating hearts

Oxytocin wears the crown as the "love hormone," but its talents extend way beyond those warm fuzzy moments. Recent studies demonstrate oxytocin's involvement in a range of human processes that impact both our bodies and minds.

Take stress, for example. Oxytocin steps in as your personal stress-buster, calming down the body's stress response. It's the zen master that helps you relax and bounce back from life's curveballs. As if that's not enough, oxytocin is like the coach for your social brain, helping you read facial expressions, understand social cues, and manage those emotional rollercoasters. A healthy dose of oxytocin helps turn us into be social wizards, cruising through interpersonal situations.

Labour of Love

It is well evidenced that Oxytocin is essential in labour - so much so that we have a bottled synthetic version in vials, which we can use when needed to initiate or accelerate Uterine contractions. Now I would like to stress that this is not a like-for-like substitute for naturally occurring oxytocin and shouldn't be treated as such, but more on that another time.

black and white image of father-to-be cradling his partner's pregnant bump making heart shape with hands, and mother-to-be placing her hands on top of his

Towards the end of pregnancy, Oxytocin levels start to increase, encouraging Uterine muscles to contract in smooth, synchronised movements. These rhythmic surges, guided by oxytocin, work tirelessly to propel the baby downwards, inching closer to the moment of birth. With each contraction, oxytocin floods the body, intensifying labour and bringing the baby one step closer to the outside world. What's more, having heard about the stress-relieving properties of oxytocin, it's an essential element in promoting calm and balance within the birthing mother. These contractions become progressively closer together, longer lasting and more intense as labour advances, reaching a peak where they are powerful enough to advance labour without causing stress to mother or baby. Towards the end of labour mothers get a big surge in oxytocin which gives mothers the final push to birth their baby.

Promote Oxytocin for an Easier Birth

Keeping your Oxytocin levels up during labour is really important to keep the momentum of labour and lead to a physiological birth. We are mammals after all, and we need the correct conditions to birth our babies without feeling threatened or unsafe. By promoting oxytocin, adrenaline levels will remain low - the last thing you need whilst trying to birth your baby is a fight or flight response, causing labour to stall or stop altogether. So how do we achieve that? Well I'm glad you asked...

black and white image of baby being birthed in birthing pool
  1. Choose a birth environment which makes you feel comfortable, safe and zen

  2. Have birthing partners who exude positive, supportive vibes - they will rub off on you

  3. Keep the lighting low

  4. Focus on your baby and the loving connection between you

  5. Kissing and nipple stimulation (works a treat if labour stalls)

  6. Minimise medical interventions

  7. Play feel-good music

This is not an exhaustive list, the possibilities are endless so get creative and create a birthing plan based on your own preferences.

The Bonding Experience

So we now know how oxytocin can make for an easier, more physiological birth, but oxytocin's role doesn't end with labour; in fact, it's just getting started. As the baby makes its grand entrance, another surge of oxytocin floods both mother and baby, helping the placenta to be birthed and promote parent-infant bonding. This powerful hormone fosters an instant connection between mother and baby, laying the foundation for a lifetime of love and nurture.

Black and white image of smiling mother having skin to skin contact with her newborn baby

In the moments following birth, oxytocin continues to work its magic during skin-to-skin contact. This intimate contact triggers another wave of oxytocin release, deepening the bond between parent and child. Through the exchange of loving eye contact, gentle touches, and the rhythm of shared breaths, oxytocin weaves the threads of a profound, lifelong connection that is second to none.

But oxytocin's influence extends beyond the birthing room; it ripples through the entire family, fostering a sense of connection and unity. Partners, family members, and even bystanders can experience a surge of oxytocin as they witness the miracle of birth, reinforcing the bonds of support and love within the family unit and wider social support network.

Closing Thoughts

Oxytocin is a key component in labour, carefully guiding the journey from pregnancy to the start of infancy and the transition to parenthood. It is a tender yet powerful hormone, capable of influencing human relationships, interactions and bring new life into the world. An abundance of the love hormone is vitally important for a physiological birth, so creating an environment conducive to oxytocin production is essential. Without oxytocin, labour can stall, stop, be more painful or require more interventions. So this Valentine's day as you celebrate love, remember the tiny molecule responsible for those cosy, fuzzy feelings and aim to recreate this feeling in the birth room!

black and whit image of mother's hands making heart shape around baby's feet

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