Oytocin released during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond helps you to be a great mum in many ways. Understand how it works and you can relax — your body’s got it sorted!
1. Creates an energy store
Your oxytocin levels starts to rise immediately at the beginning of your pregnancy. This increase alters your metabolism, which leads to weight gain in the first trimester and provides an energy store that’s used when your foetus is growing faster and needs more calories.
2. Enhances intimacy
By the last trimester, oxytocin levels in your blood are significantly higher than in the first trimester. The increased hormone levels cause you to be more open in your relationships and more likely to have friendly interactions with your family members. You’ll feel less independent and more willing to accept help. This has an important biological function, bringing you closer to those who can support you once your baby arrives. Women often find that they start to discuss things with their mothers on a far deeper level.
3. Promotes caution
Oxytocin encourages you to be more careful during late pregnancy. You’re also more cautious about the world around you, which helps you make sensible choices to keep you and your growing baby safe.
4. Induces contractions
At the beginning of labour, spikes of oxytocin in your blood help to induce uterine contractions. The frequency of these spikes increase as labour goes on, peaking during the actual birth of your baby. The release of oxytocin will also lessen pain.
5. Decreases stress
Oxytocin is linked to the reward system in the brain. It makes you feel good, which helps to reduce your stress levels after the birth, which may have been exhausting — and perhaps difficult — for both mother and baby.
6. Increases bonding
There is a scientific reason why mums are encouraged to make skin-to-skin contact with their babies after birth — touch is one of the strongest stimulators of oxytocin release. This flood of oxytocin helps you fall in love with your baby, and promotes the desire to care for her. A baby’s skin has already been stimulated during contractions in a natural delivery, raising her oxytocin levels. Immediately after birth, the efficiency of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is heightened, which boosts oxytocin levels. When cuddling her newborn, a mother will experience her highest-ever level of oxytocin.
7. Comforts your baby
The sucking, skin-on-skin activity of breastfeeding triggers an oxytocin release in both baby and mother, and is a natural pacifier. “Oxytocin is with us throughout our lives,” says Dr Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, professor of physiology and author of The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, and Healing. According to Dr Uvnas-Moberg, when you were born, oxytocin helped expel you from your mother’s womb and made it possible for her to nurse you. “As a small child, you enjoyed your mother’s and father’s loving touch because it released oxytocin in your body. As an adult, you experience the effects of oxytocin when you enjoy good food, or a massage, or an intimate interlude with your romantic partner,” she explains.
8. Helps you forget
Oxytocin helps you to forget the discomfort of birth. It has a slight amnesiac effect on the mother, dulling the memory of what’s just happened. Mothers who breastfeed, which releases high levels of oxytocin, have a better ability to move on if the birth was traumatic, as the hormone helps you to be more accepting.
9. Lets down milk
It’s oxytocin that stimulates your milk to flow when you’re breastfeeding. The hormone causes the muscles that are responsible for letting down your milk to contract. When a mother breastfeeds, the oxytocin levels go up in small spikes, similar to the end of labour. The oxytocin release is tremendous, stimulating the bond between mother and her newborn, and also allows her to produce more milk.
10. Boosts relationships
There is a period after birth when women are more committed to their baby than their husbands. High levels of oxytocin, and another hormone called prolactin, make it possible for you to focus on your baby to the exclusion of almost everything else. But use oxytocin to stay close to your hubby, too, offering plenty of hugs to stimulate it to higher levels. A father’s oxytocin levels rise when he holds his newborn child, so he will be in the mood to bond, too!