The Amazing Hormones of Labour, Birth and Breastfeeding

The Human Body

Our bodies are truly amazing and one of the most fascinating functions the body performs is the creation of new life, all the way from conception (and before) through to weaning and beyond our hormones regulate an incredible number of systems. There are many hormones that play a part in pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding but here are the 4 most well-known and what they do:
Oxytocin
Also known as the love hormone is the primary hormone present during a natural labour. It is involved in lovemaking, orgasm, fertility, labour and birth as well as playing a role in breastfeeding. It helps us to feel good and promotes loving, nurturing behaviours.
During labour, oxytocin promotes good strong uterine contractions and needs to be present for labour to start. The pressure of the baby against your cervix and pelvic floor muscles helps to stimulate the production of oxytocin.
Oxytocin production can be inhibited by fear, anxiety, hunger, being in an uncomfortable position and feeling observed, if this occurs, labour may take longer or stop altogether, it can also result in excessive bleeding after birth. To avoid this and to promote the production of oxytocin in your body you can try to stay calm, relaxed and as comfortable as possible during labour. Try to labour in an upright position to encourage the baby’s head to press against your cervix. Avoid disturbances where possible and do things that bring your body pleasure such as massage, immersion in water and nipple stimulation.
Having skin to skin contact and feeding your baby soon after birth will also encourage oxytocin and will thereby assist with the delivery of the placenta and help to prevent excessive blood loss. The oxytocin produced from your baby sucking at your breast stimulates the milk glands to release milk (also called your let down). This can also occur when the mother is cuddling her baby or even just thinking about her baby.
Endorphins
Or beta-endorphins are also known as the pleasure hormones and produce a calming and pain-relieving effect on the body. Endorphin levels are high during natural childbirth and help you to manage your labour well. They are also responsible for the feeling of euphoria which many women experience after giving birth but can also be the cause of the baby blues as the levels of endorphins will drop rapidly in the days following birth.
If endorphin levels are low during labour due to the use of synthetic oxytocin or pain-relieving drugs, then the pain of labour may not be as well tolerated. Your baby also produces endorphins during labour and birth, and this also helps with the bonding process between mother and baby soon after birth.
Adrenaline
(as well as noradrenaline) are known as the fight or flight hormones and our body produces these hormones when we feel threatened, are experiencing fear, anxiety or pain. Adrenaline production will often inhibit oxytocin and slow down labour or stop it altogether so that you can move to a place of safety.
Staying calm and relaxed during labour, being informed, prepared and having trust and confidence in yourself and your care providers and ensuring you are in a peaceful and private birth space will help to reduce your bodies levels of adrenaline and ensure your labour progresses smoothly. Adrenaline does have a role to play in labour though and can be very useful during second stage when an extra boost of energy is often required to birth your baby.
Prolactin
Also known as the mothering hormone is the key hormone responsible for milk production. It is stimulated by the separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus and by the suckling of your newborn baby at the breast. In addition to milk production, prolactin has effects on emotional behaviour in the mother by encouraging a relaxed and selfless devotion towards your baby and also by contributing to the healthy development of your newborn.

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I wish to empower women to trust their bodies and their ability to birth and to raise their babies with awareness.
If this resonates with you, please get in touch, I would love to chat to you about how I can support you and your family through one of life’s biggest transitions.
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