Oxytocin - The Secret behind Birth

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Oxytocin - A hormone released by the pituitary gland that causes increased contraction of the uterus during labour.

We all know how a baby is born - right? But do you REALLY know the physiology behind birth? What it really takes to birth a baby!! After all, for millennia the human race has existed so it's obvious that the female body is very capable of giving birth!! But times are changing, ‘normal’ birth numbers are declining and more and more births are becoming medicalised. But why?

This blog is quite heavy and wordy. It isn't a full on biology lesson (i promise) so stay with me it will be worth it.

The key to successful labour is hormones. There is a goody - Oxytocin and there is a baddy - Adrenalin. These hormones are not best buddies, they CANNOT work together. You either have oxytocin flowing or you have adrenalin. For labour and birth to proceed as beautifully and naturally as possible we need oxytocin and here is why:

In order to give birth normally (I use this term very loosely), we need contractions (or surges). A contraction is just that, the contracting of the uterine muscles. The uterine muscles need to pull up and the cervix muscles need to relax and open (dilatation). The muscles should work harmoniously together to push the baby out of the cervix and down the birth canal. The one and only hormone responsible for this process is oxytocin. This wonderful hormone, quite often referred to as the ‘love’ hormone is pretty awesome. Oxytocin is produced when we laugh, when we have sex, when we breastfeed when you see your baby for the first time. That happy, warm and fuzzy feeling that rushes throughout your body is oxytocin. So it’s pretty obvious that we need oxytocin by the bucket load to give birth. But (and it’s a big BUT) in order for our body to produce oxytocin we need to feel SAFE, RELAXED and UNOBSERVED.

In early labour you could sit and watch a funny film, it will help the oxytocin flow. If you are planning a hospital birth, take something that reminds you of home (somewhere you feel safe and relaxed) my top tip is to take your pillow, or that big cosy jumper. It smells of you and makes you feel safe.

How to keep the oxytocin flowing during labour

  • Hypnobirthing Scripts

  • Up breathing (hypnobirthing technique)

  • Massage or soft touch

  • Dimmed lights

  • Candles

  • Water (warm bath)

  • Home comforts (like a pillow & pictures of loved ones)

  • Using headphones and eye mask (to help maintain the safe bubble)

  • Remaining quiet (this is important)

  • Positive language

  • Positive birth affirmations

  • Supportive partner and midwife

  • Aromatherapy oils (with guidance)

  • Place of birth - where do you feel safest? This is down to personal choice. Home, birth centre or hospital.

As a midwife I would often triage women over the phone who were experiencing regular contractions every 2-3 minutes at home. Yet by the time they had arrived at the hospital, sat in triage, had a vaginal examination, moved to the birth centre or labour ward, the contractions had all but disappeared or slowed down. Why has this happened?

Ladies and gentlemen let me introduce to you the baddy - ADRENALIN

Our nervous systems consists of 2 sides, the parasympathetic, which is responsible for producing oxytocin and the sympathetic system which is responsible for producing adrenalin. Adrenalin is the hormone of fear. You know the one. The one when something startles or scares you. The one that starts your heart pumping faster. Adrenalin triggers the ‘fight or flight’ reflex. When this reflex is triggered all of the blood which usually surrounds all of our internal organs (including our uterus) rushes to our arms and legs in order for us to runaway. Very handy if your birthing pool is suddenly invaded by a crocodile!! But that isn’t going to happen unless you are wallowing in the River Zambezi. And let's be honest, if you are in that situation you are going to want all of that ‘labouring’ to stop, so you can get the hell out of there. But realistically if you want to use water it will be a birthing pool either at home, the birth centre or labour ward. The lighting should be lowered so that the room is nice and dark and conversation should be kept at a minimum. There should be absolutely no reason for our fight or flight reflex to be triggered.

What might cause Adrenalin production during birth?

  • Car Journey

  • Hospital

  • Unfamiliar staff

  • Bright Lights

  • Being talked to or disturbed

  • Vaginal Examinations

  • Monitoring

  • Restricted Movement

  • Unexpected Interventions

  • Negative Language

  • Noise

So simply being aware of what may trigger adrenalin production for YOU and what YOU can do to stop the fight or flight reflex from being triggered can be the first step to a positive birth experience! As the saying goes if you couldn’t MAKE a baby in that environment (bright lights, being observed), you probably can’t give birth in it!

If you are interested in taking the next step to a positive birth, BirthNerd Hypnobirthing and Antenatal Classes run throughout Cheshire and Shropshire, privately one to one but group courses are coming very soon. All bookings can be made on my website. Or if you simply want to talk more about your options please feel free to email me.

Steph x

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