Updated: May 2, 2020
Did you know that there is a love hormone? Yes there is and what’s more extraordinary is that this hormone plays a major role when it comes to your health and especially during birth.
1) What are hormones and why they are important?
Hormones are special chemical messengers in the body that are created in the endocrine glands. These messengers control most major bodily functions, from simple basic needs like hunger to complex systems like controlling blood sugar levels, and even the emotions and mood. Understanding why these are so important and when we produce them will help you tremendously when it comes to giving birth or just leading a healthier lifestyle. The hormone of love is called oxytocin.
2) When do we produce oxytocin?
Oxytocin is produced whenever we feel calm, relaxed, safe, when we are hugging, when we make love or when we are having a massage. In this case for example, it gives us a rosy skin and allows the body, including the face muscles, to relax and rest. Meditation lowers the stress level and is often recommended as the path to inner calm.
To understand why we produce this lovely hormone in these situations we need to understand the physiological way our body deals with the other side of the coin which is the stress response.
At any given time, we are either: in a fight or flight mode (sympathetic system) in which we produce the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) that can help us deal with the stress at hand. If all sudden a car fails to stop, you need your fight or flight system to kick in so that you can avoid it; your blood pressure elevates, your heart rate increases.
Or in a calm and relaxed mode (parasympathetic system), in which a plethora of biological functions can operate more effectively. Your digestive system for example is more effective, your immune system is more adept to fight threats and keep you healthy. You can sleep better, and you feel more relaxed.
These two systems balance each other, and we need them both to navigate our daily lives. Once the immediate danger is gone, you can return to your calm and relaxed state. Sadly, in our societies we seem to be in a constant state of fight and flight and that has a deleterious effect on health, including digestive complaints that have no physiological roots, sleeping issues, anxiety etc...
These two systems are antagonistic so if you are in a flight or fight mode you can't produce the oxytocin hormone that can make us feel relaxed, content and generally healthier.
3) What are the beneficial aspects of oxytocin for pregnancy, birth and postpartum?
Originally oxytocin was called the birthing and breastfeeding hormone as it was identified in this concept.
During pregnancy: oxytocin helps induce sleep which in the early months of pregnancy when you feel more tired is a godsend. It helps you deal with stressful situations more easily. It also helps counteract the negative effects of the stress hormones that can also be felt by your baby, and more generally helps your body function optimally and stay healthy.
During birth: oxytocin stimulates the uterus to contract and expel the baby. It has also the ability to alleviate pain and that’s because it sends signals to an area of the nervous system that relates to the sensation of pain. That’s why many women who manage to have a more relaxed empowered birth don’t necessarily talk about pain during their birthing experience.
Post-partum: oxytocin helps expulse the placenta and breast milk when the baby starts feeding. It also stimulates prolactin which is a hormone that increases milk production. It induces social memory and calmness in infant and it’s interesting to see that when a mother is breastfeeding her baby, she is calm and relaxed, and this is all thanks to the oxytocin effect.
So how can you boost your oxytocin levels to have a positive, calm and healthy pregnancy and birth?
- Seek out positive personal relationships.
- Have a massage as it induces relaxation and calm.
- Practice mindfulness or meditation to calm your mind and develop mental resilience.
- Be prepared for birth by going to an antenatal / hypnobirthing class, this will help you deal with your fears and anxieties, learn skills that will help you even after the birth but also develop a closer connection with your birthing partner.
- Read positive stories.
- Laughter is a great medicine as we produce oxytocin and endorphins.
- Eat nutritious, tasty food it will help you feel content and will provide your body and baby with all the necessary vitamins and minerals required.