Hooray, Oxytocin!

So, here is the lowdown: Stress hormones=stalled labor. Oxytocin (the love hormone)= more productive and less painful labor. Let’s talk about it in further length:

According to The Doula Book, Oxytocin:

  1. strengthens uterine contractions
  2. allows proper muscle function
  3. helps longitudinal muscles “expel” the baby
  4. makes the lower uterine muscles stretch, open, and relax to release the baby
  5. Increases pain threshold (so the pain of childbirth is actually less)
  6. brings in drowsiness (so mom can actually sleep in between contractions, hopefully)
  7. causes some relaxation and calming
  8. helps mom bond with the baby after birth

(p. 74, 75)

Sounds awesome, right? How do we get some of that amazing love hormone coursing through our bodies? Through relaxation. That’s right, the best thing you can do for yourself during labor is try to be calm (this goes back to the previous post about your rights. Send those who are causing you stress OUT!) Use self hypnosis, breathe, have your partner or doula massage you, use aromatherapy, dim the lights, do what helps YOU focus on your body and the amazing things it can do.

Stress hormones, however, cause

  1. the upper uterine muscles to stop contracting
  2. lower uterine muscles to tighten, holding the baby in.

WHY? Well, think of it this way: If you were a mom giving birth in, oh, say, a war torn village under siege, or whilst on the run from attacking vikings, would that be a very good time for you to unleash your bundle of goodness and light into the world? Nope. You need to run. You need to hide. This is biology’s way of taking care of us.

The problem is that in this fast-paced world, we’ve forgotten how to be in touch with ourselves. We’ve forgotten how to calm, how to be in the moment. And we’ve been fed media images of scary birth with people screaming, distant or fainting partners, and emergency-like situations. This is not how it has to be. In fact, if you consider how long a birth is, can you imagine screaming constantly and being as stressed out as those actors on camera for that long? Sounds more exhausting than birth itself.

Oh, one more thing about oxytocin. It has a cousin, called pitocin. Sound familiar? Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin. It is often used to cause labor to progress more quickly (read: on someone else’s time table). The Doula Book notes that pitocin

  1. cannot reach the pain-relieving part of the brain (because it only stays in the bloodstream)
  2. causes stronger contractions
  3. usually results in the need for more pain meds

So, as doulas, we support mom by helping her feel calm, relaxed, and cared for. We also help the partner feel calm, relaxed and cared for so that the partner can take care of the mom and protect her from too many interferences that might cause a stress reaction.

Care providers in general should work to make sure that the atmosphere is conducive to a calm person. Dimming lights, the ability to play soft music, reducing the number of people coming in and out of the room, and also monitoring their demeanor towards the mother are all ways they can promote the production of oxytocin and empower the mom to focus on birthing her baby.

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