Hormones in Birth

We would be nowhere without hormones.  They help you get pregnant, stay pregnant, birth and feed your baby.  Understanding them and their role in childbirth is really important in achieving a natural, unmedicated delivery.

Oxytocin

So this is the hormone that got you pregnant basically.  It helped you fall in love in the first place.  But what is its role? And what does it like? Well think about how you got pregnant in the first place, chances are there was bit of mood lighting, it was quiet, you were in an intimate setting with no one knocking on the door.   Fast forward a few months to giving birth and what do you need? Low lights and privacy for starters!

Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for male and female orgasm, it helps your cervix contract to tilt that sperm towards the egg. As you go into labour then it is responsible for the contractions you will feel. Your oxytocin levels continue to rise as you birth the placenta – why? Your bodys defense to minimize post partum bleeding.

We all know that food is love and it literally is as oxytocin is vital for the production of breastmilk. This hormone production can help your uterus back down to size and decrease the flow of lochia (the period you have after you’ve had a baby).

So how to stimulate oxytocin whilst giving birth:

    • Low light
    • Ask for minimal interruptions once you get to hospital
    • Nipple stimulation in labour
    • Being loving during labour – holding your partners hand can really increase oxytocin levels
    • Laugh!
    • Avoid interventions that interrupt the chemical reactions going on inside your body.

Endorphins

Endorphins react on the same part of the brain as opiates such as heroin.  They are the natural pain killing hormones and are vital to reducing some of the sensations that you will feel whilst having your baby. Endorphins are responsible for the deep sense of joy and elation that you may feel once your baby is finally here. They also help you fall in love with your baby and not view them as the source of pain for the last however many hours!

They increase to the levels of endurance athletes during labour! In fact they are 30 times higher than pre pregnancy. 

However in response to stress they can cause labour to slow.

Finally not surprisingly they are present in breastmilk helping mother and baby maintain a pleasurable relationship. It actually directs blood supply to the chest area to make it warmer and more comfortable for the baby (one reason why babies don’t need many layers on when they are feeding)

So how to stimulate endorphins whilst giving birth:

  • Avoid unnecessary interventions that can interrupt the messages that your body is sending to the brain. One of the reasons that inductions can be harder is that th

Catecholamines (or Flight or Fight)

This is the group of hormones that is designed to protect us from danger.  Now we may think that these is something that we want to avoid in childbirth but harnessed correctly these are pretty powerful and give us the energy needed to birth our baby after a long labour.

When labour begins a rush of catecholamines will rush through the baby helping them to overcome any lack of oxygen by ensuring a rich blood supply to the lungs and heart.   Catecholamines will also help baby to wide awake and alert after birth.

However if stress is experienced during birth then these hormones can stall labour and cause a delay in maternal bonding with the baby by delaying the production of oxytocin.

So how to use catecholamines to help with labour:

  • Understand your mood will change in labour so some stress/adrenaline/excitement is no necessarily a bad thing.
  • Communicate with your medical staff about interruptions and ask that they respect your privacy.
  • Look at the tips for improving oxytocin levels

Prolactin

Prolactin is the milk making hormone but it also helps with maternal vigilance and protectiveness. It works hand in hand with oxytocin and dopamine.

How to stimulate prolactin once baby is here:

  • You will read more about how to encourage breastfeeding in that part of my client area but the main thing is skin to skin.  I cannot say it enough skin to skin encourages maternal bonding from the very first second you do it.  Skin to skin.

Fathers

Please don’t think that they will have got away without being changed on a fundamental level.

Testosterone levels can dip in men over the course of their partners pregnancy and a study in 2011 has shown that the greater that dip, the more caring and involved the father is with their child. This dip has a trade off with higher levels of oxytocin and endorphins which then promote a greater sense of fulfillment.

Cortisol levels rise which comes out as a greater willingness to play and interact with baby.  Often called the stress hormone in new dads it is responsible for increased vigilance and responsiveness.

What makes for these positive hormone changes in fathers? You’ve guessed it – skin to skin, being caring and being involved with their new family.  It is so so important.

Sources

The Big Book of Birth – Erica Lyon pub. Penguin. ed.pub 2007

What to expect when you’re expecting – Heidi Murkoff pub. Simon and Schuster ed. pub. 2008

The New Pregnancy and Childbirth – Sheila Kitzinger pub. Penguin ed.pub 1997

https://sarahbuckley.com/hormonal-physiology-of-childbearing-report/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/parenting/baby/fatherhood-mens-bodies.html

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30165061/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181003162702.htm