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Oxytocin: The Love Hormone

My name is Ashton Gelzinis, and I am one of the founders of Birth Naturally Brevard, LLC, a childbirth education and doula service business. My partners, Julie O’Neill and Elizabeth McLean, and I have served women in Brevard for several years and love every minute. We are also the owners of a small retail shop called The Oxytocin Emporium where we sell merchandise to support our doula clients and sister birthworkers! We absolutely love the name of our shop because of our fascination with the hormone oxytocin. We hope that our work only raises the levels of oxytocin in the room!

During our time supporting pregnant women and their partners, we have found ourselves fascinated by the process and how women’s bodies evolve and prepare in the weeks leading up to their birth. The hormones of undisturbed labor and the role they play not only during birth, but throughout the mother’s postpartum recovery are nothing but amazing. There are lots of hormones at play during this process, but the one we all hear most often is oxytocin.

Oxytocin. “The Love Hormone.” “The Cuddle Hormone.” This single hormone plays a major role in women’s bodies throughout their lives, but most importantly in pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. Outside of pregnancy and birth, oxytocin contributes to fertility, digestion, wound healing, morality, personal connection, and many other situations throughout our lives.

“Oxytocin is the hormone of love. We share it when we have a good conversation, we share it when we make love, and when we hug, and BIRTH is the biggest brightest time of oxytocin sharing.” -Robin Lim

Let’s look at how this incredible hormone contributes to birth – the way it is supposed to. It plays a pivotal role in the birth process, not only to encourage surges, but it provides the mother with space to fall in love and bond with her newborn.

While laboring, the mother’s body releases oxytocin in response to the pressure of the baby on the pelvic floor. This release of oxytocin brings on those amazing powerful surges that help to efface and dilate the cervix, push the baby down into the birth canal, and birth the placenta. Oxytocin is released throughout the pregnancy, but really reves up just before and during birth for these reasons. In certain situations, mothers can encourage a release of oxytocin with nipple stimulation, a quiet, intimate break with her partner, or clitoral stimulation. If a labor is considered “slow to progress,” trying some of these techniques may help encourage that release and speed up the process rather than using synthetic oxytocin that doesn’t work in the same ways in the body.

Once the baby is born, more oxytocin is released, the placenta is delivered and afterbirth contractions continue to help close up the placental site and slow bleeding.

When her baby is born, the mother takes one look at this new life and gets another burst of this amazing hormone to help encourage her to bond and fall in love her new bundle. Oxytocin forces us to slow down and focus on what is most important – nurturing and feeding our baby. Every latch causes another release that helps to slow any postpartum bleeding and encourages her uterus to return to its original size before baby. The oxytocin released during nursing also encourages a healthy milk supply.

Another interesting oxytocin tidbit is that not only birthing mothers release oxytocin. Partners who are involved and present for the birth of their child release higher levels of oxytocin through the end of the pregnancy. Their levels actually continue to stay higher than average for about 6 months after the birth. This hormone in partners who didn’t give birth perform a very similar job – encourages bonding and loving. It truly is the “Love Hormone.”

In any birthing room, let’s do our part to let this hormone work it’s magic. Let’s give women the space they need to birth their babies. Let’s step away from the technological additions to birth and let mothers’ bodies work. When a woman is undisturbed, her body’s hormones work together with her baby to find just the right path for them. As doulas, we hold space, we remind mothers that the oxytocin is working and her body is nothing but incredible. That truly is the honor of my life. Let the oxytocin flow!