The Love Hormone
Scientifically known as Oxytocin.
Our understanding of the complex orchestration of hormones required for birth is limited. But one thing is for certain; without Oxytocin, birth just wouldn’t happen!
Oxytocin is the most powerful uterotonic (contraction-causing) hormone and is associated with birth in ALL mammalian species!
Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus, deep in the middle brain, and is released in pulses from the posterior pituitary gland into the bloodstream every 3 - 5 minutes during early labour, becoming more frequent as labour progresses.
The number of oxytocin receptors in a pregnant woman's uterus increases substantially late in pregnancy, increasing her sensitivity to oxytocin.
Research shows Oxytocin has a natural painkilling effect.
Oxytocin is responsible for the final powerful uterine contractions that help the mother to birth her baby quickly and easily. As baby's head descends deeper into the birth canal, stretch receptors in the mothers lower vagina trigger the release of oxytocin from her pituitary; in turn, causing more contractions that promote baby’s descent! This 'positive feedback loop' is known as the Ferguson reflex.
After birth, continued high levels of oxytocin surge through the new mothers body, as her new baby touches, licks, and nuzzles at her breast; helping to keep her uterus contracted and so protect her from postpartum haemorrhage.
Skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact between mother and baby promote the release of oxytocin in both their bodies. This surge of the love hormone encourages their bond, initiating the maternal instinct to protect and nurture.
The first feed: oxytocin narrates the milkejection, or letdown reflex and is released in pulses as the baby suckles for the first time.
The WHO recommend full or exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, then the continuation of breastfeeding along with complementary foods for 2 years or longer. During this time of lactation, the mothers high levels of oxytocin promote relaxation and enhanced nourishment, as oxytocin improves the efficiency of her digestion.
Research evidences that oxytocin is also involved in cognition, tolerance, and adaptation, and more recently discovered to work as a cardiovascular hormone, with effects such as slowing the heart rate and reducing blood pressure.
Our bodies are amazing, right?!