Midwives know about the OXYTOCIN FACTOR but do you?
Birth environment….it’s all about LOVE
Understanding oxytocin is vital to you creating and obtaining a safe birth place, as it holds the key to relaxation and progress in labour. This magic hormone optimises the possibility for a calm, content birth experience as it contributes to effective contractions, reduced ‘pain’ felt in labour and improves your babies wellbeing, by reducing stress and promoting uterine (the muscle surrounding your baby) blood supply (1). That said whatever analgesia options you choose, whether epidural or gas and air or nothing these same tips apply.
Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus, and is released in pulses from the posterior pituitary into the bloodstream (2). It is not known what triggers the start of ‘labour’, but once labour has commenced, oxytocin is released and binds with receptors in the myometrium to start and continue the rhythmical uterine contractions (3). The pulses of oxytocin have been described as increasing in frequency, amplitude (so amount) and duration (so lasting effect of release), though the amount of oxytocin peaks in the second stage of labour as the body pushes out the baby (4). The final powerful contractions in the second stage of labour occurs as the babies descending head stimulates stretch receptors in the lower vagina, triggering further oxytocin release, causing more contractions, promoting more fetal descent and so on, known as the Ferguson reflex (5). The urge to push becomes stronger and stronger, increasingly overwhelming and involuntary and has been described as the fetal ejection reflex (5) .
As baby is born, a mother experiences continued high levels of oxytocin that peak at 30 minutes after birth, and this supports the contraction of the uterus, delivery of the placenta and preventing postpartum haemorrhage (bleeding after birth). This continued and vital oxytocin also supports breastfeeding, as it stimulates the let down reflex of milk, and is further released in pulses as the baby suckles. So its vital after birth that the mum and baby as much as possible are left undisturbed, with continued low lighting, calm atmosphere, skin to skin, eye contact, and warmth. Oxytocin also stimulates natural mammalian instinctive behaviours of the mother of protection and love for her baby.
So…how do you support your body’s production of oxytocin?
The trick is to shut off your BRAIN! This happens not just in labour but before, in pregnancy.
- Read and surround yourself with only positive birth stories (that’s not to say the challenging births aren’t out there-they are a fact of life BUT you don’t need to hear them while growing your tiny human!)
- Take time out everyday to BREATHE…find a relaxation track, mp3, hypnobirthing track, your favourite music, get comfy and LISTEN. For those few minutes be uninterrupted, hands on your tummy and RELAX.
- TALK to your birthing partner about your options, and what you imagine your labour and birth to be like, that way in the thick of it they can be your advocate as well as your midwife.
- Get to know your midwife and talk to her about your wishes, visit the birth centre or delivery suite and familiarise yourself with your environment to be so it feels more comfortable when you go in in labour *(unless your at home!).
- Get moving in pregnancy so your legs are able to move you in labour, it’s a tough physical challenge so prepare your body! This will also prepare you for many hours of baby rocking once the baby is earthside!
You may also want your midwife close, as a Cochrane review has shown that women who received continuous support in labour (this can be by your birthing partner, doula but better still by your midwife) were more likely to give birth ‘spontaneously’, i.e give birth without caesarean section, ventouse or forceps (6,7). Not only that but women were less likely to use pain medications and had slightly shorter labours (6). This labour support being emotional, comfort, giving information and promoting advocacy, enhances your feelings of control and competence (7).
When in labour your body will produce oxytocin, naturally triggering contractions and there is so much you can do to support its production! We’ve not mentioned hypnobirthing yet, but it also has everything to do with oxytocin stimulation, as by using calming breathing techniques, keeping yourself in the zone, allowing the whole mind and body to be intent on achieving birth, and with a strong sense of purpose.
Oxytocin = LOVE! So get loving!!!
Have you thought about Hypnobirthing but have yet to find a class for you? Want to find out more?
Connect Hypnobirthing classes run in Leyland, Lancashire so are perfectly placed if your in Preston, Blackburn or Chorley. All bookings can be made here.
- Lederman RP, Lederman E, Bruce W, McCann DS. Anxiety and epinephrine in multiparous women in labor: Relationship to duration of labor and fetal heart rate pattern. Am J Obstet Gynecol [Internet]. 1985;153(8):870–7. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0002937885906921
- Leng G, Meddle SL, Douglas AJ. Oxytocin and the maternal brain. Curr Opin Pharmacol [Internet]. 2008;8(6):731–4. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471489208000908
- Challis JRG, Matthews SG, Gibb W, Lye SJ. Endocrine and Paracrine Regulation of Birth at Term and Preterm*. Endocr Rev [Internet]. 2000 Oct 1;21(5):514–50. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/edrv.21.5.0407
- Fuchs A-R, Fuchs F. Physiology of Parturition. In: SG G, editor. Obstetrics, Normal and Problem Pregnancies. New York: Churchill Livingstone; 1991. p. 147–74.
- Michel O. The Fetus Ejection Reflex. Birth [Internet]. 2018 Jun 27;14(2):104–5. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-536X.1987.tb01463.x
- Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Weston J. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev [Internet]. 2011;(2). Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub3
- Ross-Davie MC, Cheyne H, Niven C. Measuring the quality and quantity of professional intrapartum support: testing a computerised systematic observation tool in the clinical setting. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth [Internet]. 2013 Aug 14;13:163. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3751507/