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Understanding the Beautiful Design of Birth Hormones for a Smoother Birth

Updated: Mar 6

Congratulations!  You conceived a baby!  The Oxytocin was flowing, one chosen sperm, met a ripe egg and your baby began to grow!  

Oxytocin is often called “The Love Hormone.” Hormones are chemical messengers that trigger physical responses in our body.  The presence of oxytocin produces feelings of connection and bonding, calm, and stress relief.  Think about how good you feel having a heart to heart chat with a friend, or in the arms of your partner.  Oxytocin is also responsible for sexual arousal and orgasm.  Friendship, connectivity, love, romance–so much of the joy of life-- of really feeling alive, is experienced by way of oxytocin.  

This lovely hormone is the same one responsible for starting labor, by causing the uterus to contract.  In the time leading up to labor, receptors multiply on your uterus in preparation to receive the waves of oxytocin that will flow from your brain to your uterus causing wave like contractions necessary to birth your baby.  

In this way, we can see the flow of oxytocin as a current of love and life.  You are bringing new life into the world because of it!  It is often said that what got the baby in is what gets the baby out.  We want to encourage oxytocin to flow as we draw nearer to our due time.  The body holds so much wisdom.  So let the love flow.  Spending time together and doing things that promote joy, and intimacy will help trigger chemical messages to the body, “it is safe to have a baby.” 

When the mysterious time comes, when labor starts, oxytocin will take on this new job, of causing the uterus to contract. This is a wonderful thing!  Your love has multiplied life, and this is how your love child will enter the world.  Your body is amazing! And it is intricately woven with your baby’s.  Research shows that your baby’s own hormonal changes following the maturing of their lungs pre-labor, send signals to your body to produce oxytocin.  And so the dance of birth begins.

Contractions start.  At first you may simply feel the uterus tightening, or an internal squeeze/menstrual cramp.  In a muscle hold, your muscle contracts and hardens, and so does your uterus in order to exert pressure to push baby down gradually through the pelvis and to put pressure on the cervix to open.  In exercise, you find ways to cope with the intensity of a muscle contraction: Likewise, you can employ similar strategies to cope with the intensity of a uterine contraction.  Typically, the intensity increases gradually, so you can adapt.  As the contractions become more intense, some stress is natural, and actually helps to trigger the release of endorphins (your body's own morphine!) to reduce pain, and bring deep focus.  Those who know the feeling of a "runner's high" after a high level of physical exertion have experience with this state of being.

However, if you have a very high level of stress or fear with the onset of labor or as things progress, your body will release what is known as the "fight or flight" hormone, adrenaline. Now, adrenaline has a time and a place.  However, it is not early in labor. The presence of adrenaline sends an interrupting message to your brain that is already releasing oxytocin for birthing. The message is one of self protection going back to primal days when you might be birthing in dangerous locations near wild animals, or enemy tribes. Your brain responds to the fear in your body by releasing adrenaline to boost your energy in case you need to bolt. Think about the rush you feel when you are frightened by a sudden, startling sound. Your heart beats faster and your muscles tense. This is a good design, for real threats. It is a good thing that these powerful hormones can kick in to halt your labor, but thankfully, in our day and age that would be an extremely rare situation.  We want labor to proceed and for the helpful hormones to flow. The tension that adrenaline brings increases the sensation of pain. This is referred to as the fear-tension-pain cycle. The work you do now in pregnancy, to build trust in your body, and in the process of labor is the most powerful antidote to fear creeping in in labor.  But even if it does, which it may, you can learn strategies to work through it--the simplest and perhaps most obvious one being breathing deeply to reverse the message to your brain, that you are actually safe.

Fear Tension Pain Cycle

So breathe deep and create a plan to protect the flow of oxytocin. This will help contractions to be effective, endorphins to be released, and adrenaline to be saved for later! As I said, it does have a time and a place in birth and that is for giving you the boost of energy so helpful for pushing out your baby!

So how can we protect/encourage the flow of oxytocin?  

  • Dark, dim, quiet atmosphere

  • Stay close to your partner

  • Massage

  • Nipple Stimulation, Romance

  • Hand holding

  • Slow dancing

  • Comforting smells, music, affirmations, 

  • Preventing interruptions (Loud, sudden noises etc.)

It’s easy to see general correlations to promoting a mood for sexual intimacy (Back to "what got the baby in, gets the baby out).  Things that foster connection and freedom to be vulnerable.  Things that promote pleasure and privacy, all of this applies to birth and gets that river of life, oxytocin flowing.

Protecting you and your atmosphere from disturbances is easier said than done if you plan to birth in a hospital setting. This is why many families are encouraged to labor at home as long as possible where they feel the most safe and comfortable. Some people may feel more safe going to the hospital, and that is fine too, but be prepared for lots of annoying interruptions. You can plan to limit the negative affects of these specifically in a hospital by :

  • Requesting dim lights, soft voices

  • Wearing headphones (playing your music or meditation tracks)

  • Wearing and eye mask or sunglasses

  • Aromatherapy

  • Reassurance/Affirmations

  • Comforting touch

Supporting this good flow of hormones is the same as supporting what feels right and supportive to you in labor and will help the process to unfold in the best possible way for you and your baby. May you take this understanding of birth hormones and have a smoother birth!


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