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Labour & birth hormones – Oxytocin

The Pure Peach  Birth Preparation   Labour & birth hormones – Oxytocin

Labour & birth hormones – Oxytocin

Oxytocin is the most important hormone when it comes to giving birth, it is what makes your uterus contract.


When your baby is ready to be born, he or she will send a message to your brain to tell it to start producing oxytocin, which will then start labour. Clever eh?


It is often referred to as the hormone of love – you produce lots of it when you are in love, when you’re having sex, when you orgasm, when you laugh, when you’re having fun, feeling safe, calm, relaxed… you get the idea.


Michel Odent, a highly regarded Obstetrician says “sex and birth are the same event separated by time”.


Essentially what he’s saying is, create an environment for birth, that you’d be comfortable being intimate/having sex with your partner in. If you’re the kind of couple that are completely happy to do it on a bed, with strip lights above you and a couple of random people that you’ve just met hanging around then you’re all good. If not, it’s definitely worth thinking about how you can tailor wherever you’ve decided to give birth to make it more appealing/comfortable to keep that oxytocin flowing.


We are mammals after all, and if you think about how and where other mammals choose to give birth it’s very different to the way we are often expected to give birth… animals like to feel safe, secure and unobserved.


At home it’s obviously a lot easier to create this type of environment but if you’re choosing to give birth in the labour ward or birth centre there are still definitely things you can do to encourage the flow of oxytocin.


If you’re not having a home birth, something else to consider is your transfer to the birth centre or hospital. It’s quite common for things to be progressing quite nicely at home and then you arrive at the hospital and things slow down because you’re not in your safe, secure and unobserved environment at home, you’re suddenly in a very brightly lit place with lots of people that you don’t know.


Michel Odent, a highly regarded Obstetrician says “sex and birth are the same event separated by time”.

So… what happens if you don’t feel safe, unobserved and all of those things?


It’s definitely going to have an impact on labour, it could slow things down, it could make things more painful or more intense and end up making you feel negative about your birth experience if you’re feeling scared in anyway.


This means you’re going to be producing adrenaline (which we will look at in more detail later), which inhibits the production of oxytocin. Adrenaline is the hormone that is produced when you’re in that fight/flight/freeze place – when you’re scared, stressed or tense.


This could also have an impact on you going to into labour in the first place – if you’ve gone past your due date (guess date) and are starting to panic because your baby is late, if you’ve got an induction date looming or anything else that’s stressing you out, it could definitely have an impact!


How can you encourage the production of oxytocin?


To encourage labour to start/or if you’re in labour and things slow down:


Sex*, orgasm, clitoral stimulation, intimacy in all forms is a great way to encourage labour to start or get things going again if things slow down (there’s also prostaglandins in sperm which is another hormone we’re going to talk about later, so sex with sperm involved to induce labour is a double whammy)


*if your membranes have released/waters have broken it’s a good idea not to have sex as it could introduce an infection.


Laughter/happiness, get your funny DVDs out, watch lots of funny or feel good films


Nipple stimulation/colostrum harvesting


Visualisation, meditation, self-hypnosis, practicing your Hypnobirthing techniques – anything that’s going to make you feel relaxed and calm.


When you’re in labour:


Think about your environment – dimming the lights, keeping the room quiet and calm and keeping chat and unnecessary noise to a minimum.


Using your hypnobirthing techniques – breathing techniques, MP3s, self-hypnosis, massage, aromatherapy, affirmations or positive statements… all of those good things that you’ve been practicing throughout your pregnancy.


Having a birth partner who you know is a safe pair of hands and completely believes in you, who has been involved in practicing the techniques with you during pregnancy, so that they can prompt you to breath, relax your jaw, release any tension, massage you etc.


Intimacy is another one – having a kiss and a cuddle with your birth partner or if you don’t want to be touched then reassurance and having your birth partner give you lots of reassurance verbally and tell you that you’re an absolute birthing legend!


Try not to stimulate the ‘thinking’ part of your brain – this is a key difference between us and other mammals when it comes to giving birth, getting into the zone in whatever way works for you will make a big difference.


Be prepared – I’m not talking about training as a midwife in preparation for the big day but definitely having a plan A, B and C(aesarean) that you’ve thoroughly researched is going to make a massive difference to how you feel. Either planning together or sharing the info with your birth partner is also going to make it even easier for you to let go and get into the zone, knowing that you’ve got someone there who knows exactly what you want and can communicate it on your behalf.


These are just a few ideas for you – there are lots of other ways and lots of other hormones in the mix when it comes to labour and birth but hopefully this has helped you to understand why oxytocin is so important and will give you a few ideas for your birth plan.


If you’ve got any questions please do feel free to get in touch.


Leah xx


Hypnobirthing based birth preparation courses in Coulsdon, Caterham & Purley. Free monthly meet ups for pregnant women in Coulsdon, Caterham and Croydon. Weekly Pregnancy Relaxation Class in Caterham.


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