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Your birth hormones & how they interact with each other

"The hormones that make birth happen, also prepare us for breastfeeding and mother-infant attachment" - Dr. Sarah Buckley

Our hormones during pregnancy & birth are critical in actually making labour & birth happen efficiently. These hormones help us prepare for birth in the final couple of weeks before delivery, help with labour pains & stress & when all is said and done gives us a feeling of reward & pleasure when we meet our babies for the 1st time. But for all of this to happen ALL of the birthing hormones need to work in synchronicity.

Lets have a closer look at these hormones & what they are responsible for:

1) Oxytocin - The love hormone

2) Prolactin - Facilitates breastfeeding & milk production

3) Endorphins - The pain relieving hormone

4) Catecholamines - Stress hormones (Fight or flight)

The hormones of mom & baby are interrelated to get the best outcome for both of them during birth - what the mother is exposed to during her pregnancy, labour & birth (the experience she has) will influence the effect of the hormonal balance of the baby. It is therefor very important for labour to start on it's own to set up for perfect synchronicity. Birthing in a stress free, calm atmosphere will help keep your hormonal balance in tact with the onset of labour.

An increase of natural oxytocin will cause the uterus to supply effective contractions and endorphins will prepare for pain relieving pathways. A further increase in oxytocin will prepare the mom for breastfeeding & maternal infant bonding. Maintaining a low stress, calm environment for birthing will lower the levels of the catecholamines so that labour isn't slowed down by the interference of too much of this hormone (the more you stress the more it gets secreted)

Lower levels of stress promotes uterine blood supply, improving foetal circulation and newborn well-being. It also promotes new born alertness which in turn helps with bonding & breastfeeding benefits - Yes, this is what we want!!

Too much stress will lead to increased catecholamine levels which will cause blood to be diverted away from the uterus & baby (classic fight or flight response). This will cause labour to stall - and this usually happens wen moms arrive at the hospital to an unfamiliar and stressful environment.

What can I do to stay relaxed & calm?

Using the relaxation techniques that was taught to you at the antenatal classes, massaging & non-pharmaceutical pain relieving methods like drinking a lot of water, different positions & pressure relieving massages can help your stress levels stay low as all of these promotes the natural release of endorphins. (Will be doing a post on this very soon)

Making sure you are moving around as much as possible and maintaining an upright position also further releases endorphins and helps speed up the labour process. It is NOT necessary to be strapped to the foetal heart rate monitor at all times - keep moving and stay off your back!!

In late labour, oxytocin peaks and assists mom in pushing baby out & if mom is stressed out during this phase the catecholamines will slow down labour by lowering the levels of oxytocin that is being released. High levels of stress hormones will prolong your labour and can lead to foetal hypoxia (when the baby is deprived of an adequate amount of oxygen)

Slow labour can also end up in having to make use of medical interventions - and we refer to this as the cascade of interventions. Lets have a look at what this means:

  • If the mom had an epidural her oxytocin levels drop drastically, which then leads to synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) being given to counteract this effect.

  • Prolonged use of Pitocin blocks the real oxytocin receptors and this can increase the mothers risk of having postpartum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding after giving birth)

  • Women who give birth naturally/vaginally releases a lot more oxytocin and a lot more effectively than a mother who had a C-section

  • Lower oxytocin levels due to the epidural & Pitocin could lead to having more trouble with breastfeeding & bonding with your baby postpartum,

  • Decreased Prolactin levels which leads to,

  • Inhibition of milk ejection & decreased milk production,

  • Interference with bonding & attachment

If a natural birth is what you really want you need to stay away from that very first decision to ask for pain meds. That can & most of the time will lead to all the other interventions and ends up in a C-section.

It all comes down to being prepared for labour & birth, not only physically but mentally as well. Empowering yourself with as much knowledge as possible can be of so much help when the time arrives for baby to make their way into the world to help keep you as relaxed as possible and keeping your stress levels as low as possible as well - and knowing what to expect from this whole experience.

If you are not having a home birth, staying at home as long as possible (if mom & baby is fine and there are no complications) before heading to the hospital can be the 1st step to help you progress your labour & manage your stress & pain levels and possibly prevent any medical interventions in the later stages of labour.

Let your natural hormones do their work & interact with each other in the ways they are supposed to & trust yourself and your body that you CAN do this. Every pregnancy is different. Every labour & birth is different. If there are no complications you should be allowed to labour at your own pace and not be held to the 1cm every hour rule (The WHO recently updated their guidelines - make sure your doctor knows that you are aware of this) find the new guidelines here!)

On a closing note - always have an open mind going in to your pregnancy. Yes it is great to have a birth plan in place and we always try to educate moms into opting for a natural birth due to all the beautiful benefits it holds for mom & baby, BUT remember at the end of the day we want your baby and yourself to be safe and healthy at the end of this, no matter the method of birthing. So if you have your heart set on a natural birth always keep in mind sometimes a C-section IS necessary for your baby to arrive into this world safe & healthy.

You can do this beautiful mommy!!! And always remember...Strong moms make strong, happy babies!

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