If you work in the birth world, you are very familiar with the word oxytocin. If you're expectant or new parents, you may have heard this word floating around.
Oxytocin is often discussed in childbirth education classes and sometimes mentioned by your primary caregivers.
Oxytocin is a mammalian neurohypophysical hormone (secreted by the posterior pituitary gland), that acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain.
It plays an important role in the neuroanatomy of intimacy, specifically in sexual reproduction, in particular during and after childbirth. It is released in large amounts after distension of the cervix and uterus during labour, facilitating birth, maternal bonding, and after, stimulation of the nipples, lactation. It is often referred to as the "hormone of love". Oxytocin is the hormone of altruism, the forgetting of oneself. - Michel Odent.
It is my opinion that oxytocin is not given nearly enough mention or credit. It's important that you understand the enormity of the impact that oxytocin can have on your birth experience.
As an prelude to a further explanation on the importance of naturally occurring oxytocin, I would like to share a bit of my birth story with you.
Seventeen years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful, chubby, pink baby girl. I was young by today's standards, 20 years old and did not have a clue about my options in birth. At that time I'd never even heard of a midwife, a birth plan or a home birth. I went along with anything and everything that the nurses and doctors wanted to do. I didn't know any better.
My birth experience included every medical intervention under the sun - short of a cesarean. I often kick myself and say, "if only I knew what I know now." I sure would have done things differently.
Seventeen years later, I still harbour anger about my birth experience. What a horrible welcome to the world that I had given my precious baby. Through the past sixteen years I have read books and medical papers, completed professional courses and attended lectures in the area of childbirth. I know now, the long-lasting effect that mine and my daughters birth experience has had on our lives.
Immediately after she was born, she was taken away from me for examination. She was never put to my chest within that first hour. She was passed around from person to person in the room. She was kept in a separate room from me and brought to me for nursing which was a whole other story. That poor, sweet girl didn't latch properly for a good month. I give great credit to my mom for staying up all hours of the night with me to remind me that I wanted so badly to nurse my baby and that I should perservere. Many sleepless and tearful nights, not to mention sore, cracked nipples.
My daughter was not a happy baby. She fed directly off of my stress. We had not been given the opportunity to bond as she had been toted away to another room down the hallway and when we did have time together there were many interruptions from hospital staff within. The funny thing is, I accepted this as perfectly normal despite the fact that my body and mind were screaming just the opposite.
I firmly believe, and science backs me up on this, that if it weren't for the medical interventions, if I had had a more nurturing health care provider that supported informed consent, if my baby had been put to my chest immediately after birth and if we had not been separated from one another we would have a very different relationship today. Oxytocin would have played it's role as nature intended but it was never given the opportunity to perform it's miraculous work.
Ina May Gaskin, described as the Mother of Authentic Midwifery, explains beautifully the role of oxytocin.
It is also linked to empathy, helping us to better understand the feelings of others. This is definitely
An intricate and exquisitely balanced combination of hormones is necessary to trigger all of the functions of labour and birth. The subtle, complex interplay of changing hormone levels during the birth process is one of the most fascinating and little understood aspects of pregnancy and birth in the modern world. They play key roles in regulating and timing uterine contractions during labour and birth. They stimulate the maternal and infant responses (emotions and actions) that are vital to the survival of the newborn.
Natural prostaglandins act on the cervix to soften and thin it in readiness for labour. Oxytocin causes the uterus to contact. Later on, when the bulk of the baby passes through the vagina, a sudden rise in oxytocin levels in mother and baby stimulates the chain of instinctual dance between them that is most often called falling in love. They gaze into each other's eyes with gratitude and wonder.
Intricate and exquisite. What a great way to describe the miracle that is oxytocin. The human body, your body, has everything it needs to perform a miracle! This little "Cocktail of Love" is tailor made for our body, by our body.
I would like to encourage you to allow the miracle of birth to unfold as nature has intended. Women's bodies are not lemons - they are perfectly designed for the miracle of childbirth. I would encourage you to find a primary caregiver - whether it be a midwife, OB or birth attendant - that respects the nature of oxytocin and trusts that is enough to bring your baby in to this world.
Let's do a quick point form on how awesome natural oxytocin is: