Q: I’ve heard that the hormone oxytocin is the secret to having an easier and more manageable labour. Is there anything my partner can do to help boost my oxytocin levels when I’m giving birth?
The hormone oxytocin is essential to both effective labour contractions and to mom’s ability to tolerate them. While it causes the uterus to pulse, the cervix to yield, the baby to rotate and descend, it also infuses the mom’s brain with dreamy feelings of contentment and lethargy, so that she is unaware of time passing, and less aware of pain. Clearly, we want to encourage this magical hormone!
Although such a star player in labour, oxytocin is a shy hormone, slow to emerge, hesitant to shine. Oxytocin’s natural predator is stress (adrenaline), which sends oxytocin scurrying for cover. After a startle, oxytocin needs to be coaxed gently back out with assurances of safety and quiet.
Stress, fear, and ambient discomforts can stifle oxytocin, but so can the mom’s own logical brain. In labour, we have to let go of our ‘thinking’ brain, and let the instinctive part of the brain preside. Thinking can interfere with oxytocin production by flipping a toggle switch from the limbic system (where oxytocin is produced) over to the neo-cortex (where oxytocin is inhibited). The two don’t play well together.
Partners and support-people can endeavor to create an environment that promotes oxytocin, and to shield the mother from any conditions that are likely to scare the oxytocin away.
To encourage oxytocin:
- Quiet room
- Dim lighting
- Well supported
- Holding hands, touch
- Loving words of encouragement, admiration, support
- Hugging, kissing, slow-dancing
- Undisturbed atmosphere, peaceful room
AVOID these things that scare oxytocin away:
- Avoid loud noises, bright lights
- Avoid talking during contractions
- Avoid asking a labouring mom unnecessary questions
- Avoid ambient discomforts
- Avoid stress
- Avoid strangers
- Avoid unnecessary interventions, prodding, measuring, etc
- Avoid timing, unnecessary restrictions, limitations
In short, we want to create an atmosphere in which the mom can be ‘undisturbed’. Where she has no worries, no concerns, no need to think about anything, and she can cope in whatever ways she chooses, uninhibited and unhindered. All of her immediate needs are met, and she can sink deep into the hormonal state of existing, moment to moment, allowing her body to ride the waves without resistance. No one can promise you an easy or painless birth, but I can say that the higher the oxytocin, the more enjoyable the process. So discuss with your partner in advance things that you both can do, during labour and in preparation, to gently encourage this hesitant hormone to come out and shine.