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  • Writer's pictureNutured Birth Ottawa

All About Oxytocin

Woman with blue nails writing the word Oxytocin on a black chalk board.
Ottawa Doula, Julia Davie, blogs about the role this important hormone plays during birth and the postpartum period.

It’s all about the hormones! Specifically, oxytocin. Ask any birth doula and they will likely show a deep honor for and appreciation for this hormone that is fundamental for childbirth. I know a few Ottawa doulas who have gotten tattoos of the molecular form of oxytocin! Now that is love.

Speaking of love, oxytocin is also known as the hormone of love! Outside of birth, this hormone plays a role in sexual arousal and orgasm, trust, bonding, and feeling safe and calm. Think about receiving a big hug from someone that you love and feel safe with. One of the reasons it feels so good is that oxytocin is released when we cuddle or hug!

Oxytocin also plays a major role during labour, birth, breastfeeding and bonding between the birthing person and the infant. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, whenever the birthing person's body and their baby decide that it’s time, the pituitary gland will begin to produce oxytocin. The oxytocin travels to the uterus where it causes the uterine muscles to contract and trigger the onset of labour. Acting as a positive feedback loop (the product of a reaction leads to an increase in that reaction) which creates stronger and stronger contractions and promotes labour progress.

During labour, oxytocin promotes calm, reduces stress, and acts as a natural pain reliever. For the labouring person, having lots of circulating oxytocin supports a positive birth experience by promoting relaxation and calm.

At the end of the second stage there is a surge in oxytocin which supports bringing the baby down and pushing baby out. It also helps deliver the placenta and protect against postpartum hemorrhaging.

What a big job! And if that wasn’t enough, oxytocin plays an important role in the immediate postpartum too! The high levels of oxytocin stick around to support feelings of love and connection, and support bonding between mother and child. Many doulas refer to this period as “the golden hour,” the hour immediately after birth that is spent bonding and getting to know the baby.

Breastfeeding also stimulates the release of oxytocin! When the baby latches on it triggers the nerve cells in the breast to relay a message to the brain to release oxytocin. This, in turn, causes the contraction of the muscles around the milk glands to contract and causes “let-down,” which is the milk being released from the glands. Many breastfeeding or chest-feeding individuals find it enjoyable. This is partially due the love hormone being released and fostering good feelings.

At this point you probably gather that an abundance of oxytocin is supportive for the process and progress of birth and for bonding and connection with the baby during the postpartum period. And you are right! But how does one make sure that they have optimal levels of this oh so beautiful and useful hormone during labour and delivery? Your birth doula can help!

If the main health care provider feels that low oxytocin could be an issue, the birth doula can guide you to try any of the following ways to promote the production and release of oxytocin:

  • Dim the lights, light candles (electric if in hospital) and play some music to create an environment that feels safe and peaceful

  • Channel your inner calm and confidence, you’ve got this

  • Your birth team (doula and partner) can whisper supportive words to you, reminding you that you are strong

  • Foster privacy! It’s ok to ask for some alone time with your partner or to shut the hospital door to feel more private.

  • Massage and loving touch. Your birth doula or your partner can massage you with your favourite massage lotion.

  • Positive imagery is an incredibly helpful too! Imagine a time when you felt most happy. When you and your partner first met. A heartfelt conversation. A hug. Or even imagine meeting your little one and how beautiful it will be to hold them.

  • Remaining upright. Remember, pressure against the pelvic tissues, pelvic floor and cervix give your brain the cue to rev up the oxytocin production. Try standing and leaning over your partner and slowly swaying back and forth.

  • Kiss your partner! Remember that intimacy supports the release of oxytocin.

  • Nipple stimulation. Stimulating the nipples with massage or with a breast pump can be a very effective way to increase the production of oxytocin.

  • Hire a birth doula! Just knowing that you are safe and supported and that you have an experienced birth worker by your side can support the release of oxytocin.

Consider printing this list and speaking with your partner or doula about the different ways you could get your oxytocin flowing should you need the extra support.

This post was written by Ottawa Doula, Julia Davie. Her approach to birth work is heart centered, holistic and inclusive. She is honored to support families in Ottawa, Gatineau, and the surrounding areas.

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