Here is a few facts about Oxytocin, my most favourite hormone,which is released during birth and breastfeeding amongst other things:
Oxytocin is released in pulses, and the more pulses the more effects seen from the hormone. Baby’s suckling triggers these pulses, which improves milk production and release.
A surge of oxytocin is released as a baby is being born (due to stretching of receptors in the lower vagina), and baby’s oxytocin levels are high at birth, as well.
The highest peak of oxytocin in a woman’s lifetime is right after her baby is born, but before the placenta is delivered – we can maximise the hormone’s potential by placing baby skin to skin with mum and leaving the two undisturbed during the time.
Skin to skin contact increases oxytocin release – whether it’s mother and baby right after birth, dad massaging his infant, or mum and dad holding hands.
Speaking of birth, an epidural can impact the effects of oxytocin by blocking the pathways it travels. Since oxytocin increases your pain threshold, the epidural may not even be needed.
Prolactin, the milk-making hormone, is dependent on oxytocin for its production. The levels of these two hormones are strongly correlated during breastfeeding.
Oxytocin helps mothers interact with their babies. Oxytocin levels correlate with the amount of mother baby interaction, and both benefit from its effects.
When a baby kneads at the breast, oxytocin is released – so let your baby hug the breast during feeding rather than tucking or swaddling those hands away.
Oxytocin release can be hindered by a stressful environment, as fight-or-flight hormones inhibit oxytocin. But if someone feels emotionally supported, calm _and warm, the environment works in favour of her hormones.
Oxytocin helps your body use nutrients through digestion, and aids in transferring those nutrients into breastmilk (and to the fetus during pregnancy).
Oxytocin has direct effects on brain growth, especially the neocortex of the newborn.
Oxytocin is released during orgasm (male and female). Orgasm has a host of physical and emotional health benefits, so don’t forget to give your partner the nudge now and again!
Problems with the oxytocin system have been implicated in mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, drug dependency and suicide.
Positive effects of oxytocin exposure last well past weaning – repeated ‘doses’ of this hormone over the months of breastfeeding can improve maternal health, though more research is needed in this area.
Oxytocin is also released when sharing a meal with a friend, hugging someone you care about, and even when petting your dog!
Want to learn more? See www.bellybelly.com.au, Kersten Uvnas Moberg’s new book, Oxytocin: The Biological Guide to Motherhood; Michel Odent’s book The Scientification of Love; Sarah Buckley’s e-book, Ecstatic Birth (learn more on her website at www.sarahbuckley.com)