Oxytocin: The Underrated Super-Hormone of Birth
If you're pregnant or have children already, you may have heard the word "Oxytocin" thrown around by your doctor or authors of baby books. If you've taken a college level psychology class, you were probably forced to take notes on Oxytocin, along with dozens of other hormones that affect humans. But has anyone really talked about what a superstar Oxytocin actually is?? I'm not sure, so here's a post dedicated to the truly amazing hormone.
Oxytocin is a hormone that can be released by any human (not just a pregnant woman), and typically increases feelings of bonding, love, and euphoria. If anything, you may have heard that Oxytocin is released during birth to increase bonding between the mother and baby. This in itself is incredible, but that's not all it does. Oxytocin crosses your blood-brain barrier, which allows it to cause feelings of euphoria and bonding, and plays a vital role throughout pregnancy, labor, birth, and into the postpartum period. Often times, however, medical interventions such as Pitocin inhibit the release of oxytocin.
Disclaimer: Pitocin can be extremely useful in labors where your doctor deems it medically necessary, where there is a medical reason to induce or augment (quicken) a labor, natural physiological birth is not progressing, or other reasons. If your medical professional decides that Pitocin is necessary for you and your birth, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking it. Please listen to your medical professionals.
Oxytocin is what makes labor begin
Oxytocin is amazing for your labor. Let's talk about its affect on contractions first.
During a normal physiological birth, Oxytocin is what triggers contractions to occur and progress. Contractions will slowly build in intensity and are often times patterned. This gives mom a break between contractions to relax and gather herself before moving to the next one, all thanks to our good friend Oxytocin. Pitocin is often used to start or speed up labor because it has similar effects of triggering contractions or increasing the intensity of contractions.
We love less pain, but what else can it do?
One important possible difference between Oxytocin and Pitocin is freedom of movement.
Unless otherwise indicated by your doctor, you should have the freedom of movement during a natural physiological birth without being tied to monitors and IVs. This means you can get up and walk around, use your partner for support while you sway your hips, try different laboring positions in and out of the bed, and even relieve some pain with a bath or hot shower.
What about the birth itself?
So yes, oxytocin can trigger labor with contractions, manage the pain of contractions, and allow you to move around freely, but what can it do when baby decides they're ready to join us? There are 3 major effects on both you and the baby during the birth that you can thank oxytocin for.
The first is something called the "Fetal Ejection Reflex". Yes, that is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A peak of oxytocin just before birth can trigger this reflex that encourages you and your body to "eject" your baby. This gives you the urge to push and quickly gets baby out, which is safest for both mom and baby.
The second amazing effect of Oxytocin during birth is on your baby's brain. Natural Oxytocin is released in a way that protects your baby's brain during contractions and reduces their risk of hypoxia, or being deprived of oxygen.
Lastly, once the baby has been born, you will not only experience those feelings of euphoria and bonding, but you'll also have less risk of hemorrhage with Oxytocin. The same way oxytocin gets labor started by encouraging contractions, it decreases your risk of hemorrhage by helping the uterus to contract.
Are you convinced yet?
Did you have any idea that ONE single hormone was responsible for so much during pregnancy, labor, and birth?? Surely I'm not the only who thinks that oxytocin deserves an award for all its hard work.