Oxytocin works wonders during and after pregnancy – they don’t call it the love hormone for nothing, writes Kerryn Massyn
SOMETIMES EVEN A GOOD OLD CRY HELPS BY GETTING RID OF ALL THAT STRESS AND LETTING THE FEEL-GOOD HORMONE REPLACE IT
RELEASED INTO THE bloodstream when we’re happy and relaxed, oxytocin is an important chemical messenger in human behaviours such as sexual arousal, anxiety, childbirth and motherbaby bonding. So says Henny de Beer, a clinical midwife specialist at Origin Family-Centred Maternity Hospital and senior partner in the Grove De Beer Midwife Practice. “Oxytocin causes a chemical reaction in the body that makes a person feel good. It offers a truly rosecoloured perspective – one that helps with seeing the best in a situation,” she adds.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOUR BUMP – AND YOUR BABY? 1 DURING PREGNANCY
“Oxytocin is released by a small gland inside the brain called the pituitary gland,” explains Henny. “This happens in response to a sensory stimulation. Its production will increase with physical efforts like exercise and massage, as well as social efforts like engaging with people.” The production of oxytocin then shoots up during labour.
Oxytocin plays a major role in helping your baby as she makes her entrance into the world. “Once labour has started, which is believed to be triggered by the interaction of chemicals between the baby and placenta, oxytocin is absolutely vital. It is responsible for causing the uterus to contract. Without contractions labour will not progress,” says Henny. Because oxytocin works on a stimulation-release mechanism, the release of this wonder hormone when contractions start stimulates more contractions and more oxytocin to be released. In this way, contractions increase in intensity and frequency. It is these powerful contractions that help to thin and open the cervix, move the baby down and out of the birth canal, push out the placenta, and limit bleeding at the site of the placenta. This wonder hormone has one more trick up its birthing sleeve – using its feel-good magic, it helps you feel stressfree and relaxed after birth. Exactly what an exhausted new mama needs.
It’s known as the cuddle hormone with good reason. “Oxytocin causes contractions of the muscles of the milk ducts in a mother’s breast. It then also helps the milk to flow from the ducts to the nipple. Without oxytocin, the milk would still be produced (as it’s the hormone prolactin that helps to make breastmilk) but it would stagnate in the breast because it won’t flow,” says Henny. That’s simply asking for trouble. “The oxytocin released during breastfeeding also causes the uterus to contract while you’re nursing, and so your uterus shrinks back to its prepregnancy size quicker.”
The skin-to-skin contact you’re encouraged to have with baby just after birth is another way to stimulate the release of oxytocin. This is important, as a post-birth oxytocin flood helps you feel connected to and in love with your baby. Cuddling with your baby also stimulates a release of oxytocin in her, making her feel safe and loved. “The mother’s oxytocin is shared with the baby – physically through the breastmilk and psychologically through a loving, relaxed mother. This results in a calm baby,” she adds. Oxytocin will also keep you more focused on your baby than any else, which is especially important during those first weeks and months, where you’re building a special bond with your little one. It’s relatively easy to get your daily cuddle chemical boost – it’s all about discovering your zen. Try to laugh at something, listen to some uplifting music, learn how to take deep, cleansing breath. Sometimes even a good old cry helps by getting rid of all that stress and letting the feel-good hormone replace it. And, says, Henny, it’s important that you feel cherished. “This is important not just during the birthing and breastfeeding process – everyone involved with the mom and baby need to nurture and protect them no matter what.” YP