Oxytocin - The Hormone of Love
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
We observe mammalian mothers instinctively prepare for the arrival of their offspring. They birth their young in a safe, private and hidden location away from predators or other potential dangers. They keep their young warm and safe and give them milk. We do not question their capacity to birth or care for their young. It is inherent and a primal knowing that they possess. We to0 are mammals, however with the blur of modern humanity we have lost respect and trust in this primal and ancient wisdom and faith in our biological toolkit. We possess the same capacity to birth as any other mammal that inhabits this earth. Oxytocin plays a major role in this innate expression of mothering and is said to be the biological guide to motherhood.
Oxytocin is a beautiful hormone made in the hypothalamus deep in our brain and stored in the posterior pituitary gland. It is commonly referred to as the ‘hormone of love’. This is due to the powerful effects of passion and love that are created when it is released into our system. A woman releases this hormone as the physiological drive during labour, birth and breastfeeding. This hormone is also produced during sexual activity and orgasm. It is also produced when someone gives us a hug or in social situation such as sharing a meal.
During labour oxytocin causes powerful uterine contractions that promotes fetal decent which in turn stimulates further release of the hormone from the posterior pituitary gland. This is a positive feedback loop that occurs when birth is undisturbed and the woman is feeling safe and private. Oxytocin reaches peak levels at the moment of birth creating perhaps one of the most transcendent moments a woman could experience, leaving the mother and baby bound by extraordinary love.
However, oxytocin is a very shy hormone, it will disappear when the woman’s environment it disturbed, resulting in a labour that is more painful, slower and may stop completely. In the hospital environment this leaves the woman vulnerable to medicalisation of her birth, often putting her on a cascade of intervention that completely disrupts the natural rhythms of birth and the associated hormones. Therefore, the body is unable to do what it needs to do. During sexual activity if we were interrupted or feeling watched our bodies would simply not produce the hormones that are required to have a pleasurable experience and the physiological response would be that our bodies would shut down to that experience. Likewise, a mammal in the wild waits until it’s in a safe location with no threat of predators before it feels safe to birth. If a predator appears the animal’s body would stop labour and restart when it is safe to do so. Our bodies have the same physiological response. It is an in-built primal instinct to protect our young. However, the modern medicalisation of birth has lost touch with this. Creating an epidemic of inductions of labour, labour intervention including instrumental delivery and caesarean section. In many circumstances this medical intervention during childbirth is lifesaving and thank goodness we live in the modern age and have access to lifesaving intervention's. However, it is of utmost importance that a healthy women experiencing a low risk birth be supported and encouraged to have a normal physiological birth. The implications of birth intervention and trauma is having catastrophic effects not only on mothers and their babies, but on our general wellbeing as a species.