The Wonder of Mothers: Oxytocin

May celebrates Mother's Day. Throughout the month, Giving Birth with Confidence is posting on The Wonder of Mothers, a series dedicated to sharing some of the many ways mothers' bodies are beautifully designed to grow, birth, and nourish her baby.

The Wonder of Mothers: Oxytocin

If you've read anything about the particulars of birth, chances are you've read about "oxytocin." Oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" is present in both women and men, but for women, it plays a significant role in conception, pregnancy, birth, and during the postpartum period. Here are just a few of the things this awesome hormone (that our bodies naturally create) does for women:

Contractions. Perhaps the most important job since contractions are responsible for dilating and thinning your cervix to make way for baby!

Stopping bleeding after birth. Oxytocin is crucial in controlling the bleeding when your placenta detaches from your uterus.

Shrinkage. Shortly after your baby is born, uterine contractions -- caused by oxytocin -- continue, shrinking your uterus back to pre-pregnancy size (over a period of about four weeks).

Breastfeeding. When your baby breastfeeds, oxytocin is released, and is responsible for: continuing to shrink your uterus; initiating the "let-down" reflex in your breast, which releases milk flow to your baby; and strengthening a bond between you and your baby.

Alleviate pain. Oxytocin is also known as the "feel good" hormone because it produces a feeling of calm and reduces the sensation of pain, allowing women to better cope with the intense work of labor, birth, and postpartum recovery.

While oxytocin occurs naturally in a woman's body during labor, there are certain things a woman can do to increase and enhance the flow of oxytocin throughout the body. According to Childbirth Connection, you can promote oxytocin during labor and birth by:

  • staying calm, comfortable, and confident
  • avoiding disturbances, such as unwelcome people or noise and uncomfortable procedures
  • staying upright and using gravity to apply your baby against your cervix and then, as the baby is born, against the tissues of your pelvic floor
  • engaging in nipple or clitoral stimulation activities before birth and giving your baby a chance to suckle shortly after birth
  • avoiding epidural analgesia

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