Cultivator of oxytocin
I wore a necklace representing the structure of the hormone oxytocin to my wedding without realizing the integral role this molecule would have in my future. I was thrilled to adorn myself in the love hormone, celebrating our union in a nerdy way. I remember delving into the science behind oxytocin but skimming over its functions in childbirth and breastfeeding because it didn’t pertain to me and I didn’t yet know or understand the power of motherhood. Here I am years later, and my life’s mission is to cultivate oxytocin in all settings. I revere this hormone as both a doula and a scientist so let’s take a closer look at oxytocin, what it does and why it’s so important in childbirth and parenting.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone that is often called the molecule of love and bonding because it can promote trust, attachment and empathy. Studies have found that people in new romantic relationships have more oxytocin circulating in their systems. Increases in oxytocin also occur when we interact with our pets, hug our loved ones, and orgasm. This feel good molecule can reduce anxiety and stress by decreasing the release of stress hormones and it also plays a role in pain relief.
What does oxytocin do during labor?
The word oxytocin was derived from the Greek words for “swift birth” because of its ability to contract the uterus when injected into pregnant cats (Eep!). During childbirth, oxytocin is the driving force for the uterine contractions needed to open the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) and to push out the baby. In one way or another oxytocin played a role in getting the baby in and oxytocin will get the baby out! On the other hand, fight or flight hormones can dampen oxytocin and slow things down. To promote birth, we want oxytocin to flow and this can be fostered by ensuring a safe, calm, and love-filled environment.
How does a doula impact oxytocin?
Doulas are the keepers of oxytocic environments. We have the right combination of being connected with you and your family before labor even begins AND being comfortable with all aspects of birth. With a few tricks up our sleeves we can create the ideal cocktail for increasing your natural oxytocin: soothing touch, encouraging words, inviting familiarity, dimmed lights and keeping a peaceful atmosphere so that anyone who walks into the room will hopefully match our energy. Calm, privacy, darkness and safety. These are the things that will promote oxytocin and bring you closer to your baby. As a doula I use prenatal meetings to create that important connection and to identify what makes YOU feel safe or anxious, everyone is different. Exploring these things helps you start off on the right foot and go into birth feeling reassured, ready to let the oxytocin flow and meet your baby!
What else does oxytocin do?
Everything! Stay tuned, next time I will explore why this molecule of love is important for the next stages of parenthood: bonding with your baby and its role in breastfeeding. The power of oxytocin extends through it all.
Credit where credit is due:
My gorgeous necklace and wedding pictures were taken by Sugar + Soul Photography and my necklace is by the aptly named Made With Molecules. The oxytocin flowing in the wedding pictures (and in my real life) is thanks to the lovely man I married, Ian Prentice.
To read more about oxytocin check out the book, Oxytocin: The Biological Guide to Motherhood by Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg.