The Hormones of Birth

Hormones: The ultimate waiting game, allowing labor to begin on its own

If you’ve ever been pregnant before, or may even have been guilty of this when asking someone else who was pregnant, the questions that drive us all crazy “Did you have the baby yet?” “You’re still pregnant???” “What are you doing to get that baby out?!”

Family and friends, even strangers on the street assess your term and the pressure is on! If you are deciding to get pregnant, or you are pregnant, start making plans with how to interact with the stress and pressure that comes with the end of pregnancy, but also educate yourself on the natural hormonal processes and how your body was made for childbirth and knows what to do!! Let’s break down hormones and how they work together to start labor on their own!

Letting Labor Begin on its Own

In another blog we talked about estimated due dates and inductions. Every day, including those last days of pregnancy as trying as they are, are so important to your body, and your baby’s preparation for birth. Should you choose a labor induction, your labor becomes medical event and begins differently than spontaneous labor. Spontaneous labor starts when all the parts are ready, your hormones, your baby, your uterus and your placenta. We will go in depth about hormones and how they play an important role in your labor, these hormones are oxytocin, endorphins, and prolactin. You and your baby are born with the ability to start labor on your own, labor, give birth and breastfeed. During these processes you will become deeply attached to each other. The natural flow of your hormones drives these intricately organized natural processes.  It is important that you understand these processes and how you can work “with” them to begin your own birth, unique to you and your body. A woman’s body and a newborns natural instincts are remarkable and while you don’t need to be taught how to give birth, it is a wonderful thing to know what is happening to your body to prepare your for the arrival of your baby.

The Role of Birth Hormones

Birth hormones are chemical “messengers” that your body makes, in connection with the hormones your baby makes, that work together to stimulate changes in your body to start labor and continue the natural progression of birth. Birth hormones help guide you and your baby in many ways, including:

  • Preparing your body to give birth

  • Preparing your baby for labor and life outside of your body

  • Starting your labor contractions

  • Preparing your breasts for milk production and getting your baby ready to breastfeed

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is most commonly known as the "love hormone" because it is associated with sex, fertility, contractions during labor and birth and the production of breast milk. It helps us “feel good”, and it helps feelings of love, connection and calmness. As your pregnancy progresses, so does your body’s response to the gradual increase of oxytocin with the peak release being during labor. The release of oxytocin is what stimulates powerful contractions that help to thin and dilate the cervix, move the baby down and out of the birth canal, deliver the placenta, and limit bleeding at the site of the placental attachment in the uterus. During labor you will feel pressure of the baby against your cervix and pelvic floor, this pressure stimulates the release of oxytocin and progression of contractions. After delivery breastfeeding a newborn continues this hormonal release (https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003246.pub2/full).

Low levels of oxytocin during labor and birth can influence the natural progression and cause problems by causing contractions to stop or slow therefore making labor longer. This can sometimes result in excessive bleeding at the placental site following birth. You health care provider will likely respond by suggesting an intervention to keep the process going.

You can do things to promote your body’s natural production of oxytocin by doing a few of the following during labor and birth:

  • Stay calm and confident in your body’s ability to do this, you were made for this mama!

  • Avoid disturbances as much as you can during labor, restrict noise and interaction with people other than your birth support so that you may remain as relaxed as possible.

  • Stay upright, or continue moving so that you may use gravity to keep that pressure against your cervix and pelvic floor so that your body continues to increase oxytocin release.

  • Nipple stimulation during labor and allowing your baby to breastfeed shortly after birth.

Endorphins

When you experience stress or pain, your body produces a calming and pain relieving hormone called endorphins. Your level of endorphins will increase near the end of pregnancy as your body prepares itself for labor. For a woman who has an unmedicated birth, your body will produce those endorphins increasingly through the birth of your baby. Maintaining high endorphin levels during labor and birth can help you deal with the birthing process. High endorphin levels can make you feel alert, euphoric and attentive after giving birth. Low levels of endorphins can cause labor to be excessively painful and difficult to tolerate thus resulting in your health care provider likely suggesting an intervention. You can enhance your body's production of endorphins during labor and birth by doing things to stay calm and relax your body and reduce distractions so that you may stimulate that release (https://evidencebasedbirth.com/relaxation-for-pain-relief-during-labor/).

Prolactin

Prolactin is commonly known as the “mothering hormone”. It is the major hormone of breast milk synthesis and breastfeeding. It’s released by the pituitary glands during pregnancy and lactation, and it prepares a pregnant woman’s breasts for lactation. While breastfeeding, a mamas prolactin levels influence nursing intensity, frequency of nursing sessions and duration. It’s believed that along with oxytocin, Prolactin plays a crucial role in the breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby as it influences brain functions, maternal behavior, feeding and appetite and oxytocin secretion.

Each of these hormones are so important to helping your labor progress as smoothly and safely as possible and each one plays an important role in your entire birthing process. Sometimes hospital settings, noise and medical interventions can interfere with your body’s natural processes. To avoid this, make sure your support know your wishes and your birth plan so that you can have the birth you want mama. And just remember, there are times where medical reasons dictate interventions and inductions and that’s ok! All that matters is the safety of you and your baby.

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The Mama in Me Honors the Mama in You

Jessie D