Oxytocin; everything you want to know about the love hormone
Oxytocin is one of the key components of your pregnancy cocktail. In this blog, I discusses the renowned "cuddle hormone," which plays a significant role during your pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum period. Together with other hormones (adrenaline, endorphins, melatonin, and relaxin), it ensures a healthy pregnancy, comfortable birth, successful lactation, and smooth postpartum period. These hormones work interdependently for optimal functioning. In this blog, we focus on oxytocin, shedding light on what this hormone does for you and how you can promote its production.
Oxytocin during Pregnancy, Birth, Delivery, and Postpartum Period
Oxytocin is one of the key components of your pregnancy cocktail. In this blog, Titia discusses the renowned "cuddle hormone," which plays a significant role during your pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum period. Together with other hormones (adrenaline, endorphins, melatonin, and relaxin), it ensures a healthy pregnancy, comfortable birth, successful lactation, and smooth postpartum period. These hormones work interdependently for optimal functioning. In this blog, we focus on oxytocin, shedding light on what this hormone does for you and how you can promote its production.
What is Oxytocin Exactly?
Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter. It's also known as the "cuddle hormone" or "love hormone." Among other functions, it helps facilitate the birth of your baby. The term "oxytocin" literally means "rapid birth" and is secreted by a gland called the pituitary gland located in your head, just beneath your brain. Oxytocin was discovered in 1909 by pharmacologist and physiologist Henry Dale. Initially, the hormone was solely associated with childbirth, as it triggers contractions of the uterus. Later, it was found to also stimulate the letdown reflex during breastfeeding and was recognized not only as a hormone but also as a neurotransmitter, playing a significant role in social and emotional processes.
What Does Oxytocin Do?
Oxytocin fosters feelings of connection, intimacy, trust, and well-being. Additionally, it reduces pain, fear, and stress. It creates the delightful, warm, soft sensation of being in love, akin to a long warm hug from your favorite person, the caress of a pet, dancing to your favorite music, singing together, or gazing into your baby's eyes and melting away. Oxytocin is produced when you feel content, connected, and secure.
The Function and Effects of Oxytocin...
During Pregnancy Throughout your pregnancy, the level of oxytocin gradually increases. Towards the end of your pregnancy (from around week 35), you produce less progesterone, which prompts your body to produce other hormone-like substances (prostaglandins). This leads to even more oxytocin release, preparing your body for childbirth. The cervical seal loosens, and contractions or waves begin. Oxytocin during labor is crucial to ensure sufficient contractions.
- Oxytocin during labor is crucial to ensure sufficient contractions -
During childbirth, oxytocin, in conjunction with prostaglandins, enhances the strength of contractions. This force is necessary for your uterus to contract more powerfully, subsequently thinning and opening the cervix. In the final phase, this contraction strength is needed to facilitate the cooperative birth of your baby as your baby's head exerts pressure on the cervix, prompting your body to increase oxytocin levels. Oxytocin during labor is crucial to ensure sufficient contractions.
- Interventions can disrupt the perfect dosing of hormones in your beautiful woman's body -
An amazing aspect to realise is that your body precisely regulates the amount of oxytocin needed for optimal functioning of the birthing muscles. It's essential that the natural birthing process isn't unnecessarily interrupted, as this would disrupt the perfect hormone balance.
Another remarkable effect of oxytocin is its ability to reduce sensitivity to stress and pain. This, combined with the production of endorphins, which have pain-relieving properties, contributes to comfortable childbirth. These are all wonderful ingredients for a birth cocktail, right?!
...during the Postpartum Period
Oxytocin is responsible for physical processes, such as uterine contractions during birth and the letdown reflex during breastfeeding. After birth, oxytocin also prompts the uterus to contract again to expel the placenta, narrows uterine blood vessels to stop bleeding, and triggers the letdown reflex during breastfeeding.
- After birth, oxytocin facilitates uterine contractions -
Moreover, and significantly, the hormone plays a pivotal role in bonding between you and your baby immediately after birth.
The love hormone facilitates the initial bond between mother and child. Following birth, both you and your baby have high oxytocin levels in your blood. It's no coincidence that the first hour after birth is often referred to as the "golden hour." Most babies are highly alert immediately after birth, quiet, and seek eye contact. When you first look into your baby's eyes and your tiny, warm bundle gazes back, oxytocin is further released.
- The love hormone facilitates the initial bond between mother and child -
Also, skin-to-skin contact enhances the release of the love hormone, aiding the bond between you and your baby. When your baby is against your bare chest, it also instinctively searches for your nipple to feed. This further stimulates oxytocin release. Therefore, enjoy your first moments together as much and as undisturbed as possible!
What can you do to promote the production of oxytocin...
Oxytocin production can be stimulated by gentle touch, skin-to-skin contact, a hug or a kiss, nipple stimulation, or an orgasm. Various other factors also have a positive effect on love hormone production, such as listening to enjoyable music, eating dark chocolate, savoring your favourite dish, petting an animal, receiving or giving compliments, engaging in positive social interactions, or watching a "feel good" movie. What brings you joy?
- Oxytocin is a shy hormone -
To allow the love hormone to flow freely, feeling comfortable is essential. If you can regularly relax during your pregnancy and reduce stress, it benefits oxytocin production. The more your body becomes accustomed to regular relaxation, the easier and faster you will be able to relax again.
Being able to relax is very important during childbirth, but also afterwards. You will physically and mentally recover faster if you know how to relax and reduce moments of stress or tension. What things do you find pleasant? Discover what triggers the production of oxytocin for you: is it listening to soothing music, a massage, intimate touches from your partner, a warm bath, sweet words, repeating empowering affirmations? If you explore this and find out what makes your oxytocin flow, you have a valuable tool in your hands! And your childbirth will go smoother.
...during the postpartum period
If you plan to breastfeed, it is also important to consider that oxytocin is a shy hormone. If you don't feel at ease, less oxytocin is produced. Oxytocin is needed for the let-down reflex during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in a room full of visitors can frustrate the production of this intimate cuddle hormone. Also, small stressful moments throughout the day can reduce your oxytocin production. It's good to take this into account and try to minimize these moments as much as possible. Keep a close eye on your own boundaries and desires, and create moments of rest and relaxation wherever you can.
The influence of synthetic oxytocin used in medical childbirth
On the other hand, administering synthetic oxytocin disrupts the production of natural oxytocin. This can have a negative impact on the bonding process and the initiation of breastfeeding. Synthetic oxytocin is used, for example, to induce labor, stimulate contractions, or deliver the placenta. Some midwifery practices administer it routinely after birth, while others wait longer or do not use artificial oxytocin at all. Therefore, it is recommended to inquire in advance about the procedures and options with your midwife or gynecologist.
Prenatal courses for promoting oxytocin flow
In a HypnoBirthing course you will learn multiple ways to relax yourself or with your birth partner and promote oxytocin flow. Your birth partner will also learn a massage technique that stimulates the production of oxytocin, and you will gain more insight into the functioning of all different hormones. You will learn how these hormones interact and how to optimize their effects, or what you can do to prevent negative influences, such as adrenaline, on oxytocin production. Your birth partner will also learn how they can play an active role in this process. If you do not follow a HypnoBirthing course, it is definitely worth exploring the miraculous functioning of your hormones during childbirth and the postpartum period.
This article was written in collaboration with Esmarel Gasman from Dalalou Natuurlijk. She provides amazing natural postpartum packages in her webshop and lots of information (in Dutch).