What is Oxytocin: The Love HormonePregnancy
Of all the many different hormones that our bodies produce, oxytocin may be the one we associate most with pleasure and happiness. That's because oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, promotes bonding, nurturing, and satisfaction: it's flowing the fastest when we're hugging, kissing, cuddling, or having sex. Oxytocin also takes a major role in pregnancy and delivery, triggering contractions and ensuring that we can bond with and breastfeed our baby.
Oxytocin Day to Day
Oxytocin is produced by both men and women, and released by the pituitary gland to nurture our relational and sexual health. Higher levels of oxytocin increase our generosity, empathy, and feelings of pleasure and happiness. In fact, a 30-second hug with another human being can have the oxytocin-raising power to turn our whole day around! Oxytocin release is also ramped up during a good lovemaking session, helping us achieve a strong orgasm, and causing us to feel deeply bonded to our partner. Research suggests that human contact and relationships, from kissing and sex with our partner, to hugging our kids, to eating dinner together with our friends, can raise our oxytocin levels and help us feel more happy, calm, and fulfilled.
Oxytocin During Pregnancy
Supporting a healthy pregnancy is largely dependent on having the right balance of hormones. Your hormones play a role in how well you feel – both physically and emotionally – as well as prepare you to bond strongly with your new baby. Oxytocin helps you feel nurturing, excited for the baby, and stimulates you to organize and prepare – often called “nesting”. You can boost your oxytocin levels during pregnancy by snuggling your partner or pet, getting a prenatal massage, meditating, turning off the news, or anything that helps you feel safe, connected, and relaxed.
Oxytocin During Labour
Oxytocin takes a starring role throughout labour and delivery, helping your cervix soften and your uterus contract. As oxytocin levels rise, contractions become longer, stronger, and closer together: ultimately culminating in the delivery of the baby. During some labours, contractions may become less frequent or intense, and the process slows down. In these situations, your doctor may suggest augmenting the process by giving you Pitocin, a manufactured version of oxytocin, through your IV. In many cases this will lead to strong contractions again and help achieve a vaginal delivery.
You can also help boost your oxytocin levels during labour by turning the lights down and asking for privacy; resting and cuddling with your partner; or even doing nipple stimulation with your hands or a breast pump.
Oxytocin After Delivery
Oxytocin doesn't stop working for you just because the baby has arrived! It keeps chugging along, helping your uterus contract back to its former size, delivering the placenta, and lowering your risk of excessive postpartum bleeding. In fact, in many areas it is standard protocol to administer a dose of Pitocin after delivery to ensure that the contractions stay strong.
Your high levels of oxytocin after birth ensure that you can form a strong bond with your baby. Skin-to-skin, breastfeeding, and eye contact with your baby all help you continue releasing oxytocin. Many mothers who have given birth have even described a euphoric-like state upon delivery, not even noticing any pain or anything going on around them in the room!
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, playing a significant role in pregnancy, labour, maternal-infant bonding, and milk release, as well regulating human social interaction, empathy, and sexual reproduction. Bring on the cuddles!
We encourage you to learn more about our "What in the World" series. Please see our A to Z index for a whole host of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting information and terminology.
Loree Siermachesky works as a multi-certified labour and postpartum doula, certified Lamaze childbirth educator, certified breastfeeding counselor, certified placenta encapsulation specialist and a certified car seat technician in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. She has had the honour of attending over 1400 births in the last 20 years. She is well-known and greatly respected by the medical providers in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Brooks, Taber, and Calgary. She cares deeply for this profession and even more for her clientele, honoring them in whatever method of birth they choose, or helping them transition to new parenthood as they wish.