Thursday, October 22, 2009

Benefits & Stimulants of Oxytocin

This month I had the opportunity to attend the International Childbirth Educators Association (ICEA) Conference in Oklahoma City. I actually had to take a test for another certification (I passed!). The conference ran for three days and there are lots of things I'd like to share with you here.

In honor of all the women that I have due right now and in the next few weeks, I decided the first thing I wanted to write about is oxytocin - its benefits and how to make it flow!

Let's review for a moment: We hear so much about pitocin, but rarely oxytocin. Pitocin is the synthetic form of oxytocin. Oxytocin is what causes the uterus to contract. Released are also endorphins that help mom to cope -- even feel good. In other words, when oxytocin is released naturally, it crosses a blood-brain barrier to release those endorphins. When labor is started artificially with pitocin, or "pit", the uterus contracts without all these extra benefits I'm about to share.

Benefits of Oxytocin that you may not be aware of:
Mom experiences lower blood pressure and fewer stress hormones.
Her pain threshold increases.
Her sleepiness, even laziness, increases, causing relaxation.
Her muscle tension will decrease.
She will feel more calm and even more curious.
She will become more trusting and possible more daring.
She is more open to touch and be touched.
Oxytocin facilitates learning.

Wow! Who knew! Oxytocin levels are at their highest in a woman right after she gives birth. If you have given birth without medication, think back to how you felt right afterwards.

And did you know that women being together will also produce high levels of oxytocin. In comes the doula. Why is it that women are more able to relax and have fewer interventions and medications with another woman by her side in labor? We often assume that it is because she is more sympathetic or has been through this experience before. While these are often true, it's more than that. Think of when you have a girls night out. Oxytocin is flowing! Men will often report that their wives are in the mood for sex they come home from a girls night out. Oxytocin is often called "the love hormone" and makes us feel good!

So how do we get it flowing? There are many different ways. I always talk about nipple stimulation and sex as the number one way. This weekend, another educator reported that some serious kissing can often get oxytocin flowing more than nipple stimulation. If you have read anything by Ina Mae Gaskin, she'll probably say the same thing. Following is a list of several contributing factors to the natural production of oxytocin:

Ways to get oxytocin stimulated:
Descent of the fetus
Good food
Low light
Positive thought
Pleasant smells

Adrenalin is the opposite of oxytocin. If a woman in labor, or one who is trying to start labor, is under too much stress (ie. the threat of induction!), the production of oxytocin is squelched. Too much stress can actually stop labor. We've heard of the "fight or flight" response. It applies to labor as well. You can sometimes tell if a woman is under too much stress by looking at her eyes. Her pupils will likely be dilated instead of her cervix. Her digestion will slow, while her heart rate and blood pressure will increase. When this occurs, not enough blood will get to her vital organs and muscles, including the uterus.

The mind is a powerful, powerful thing. I was talking with one of my moms-to-be this week who was due about a week-and-a-half ago. I found out she was still working because she feels great. Better than sitting around waiting for baby to get here, right?! Wrong! I told her, no matter how the baby comes out, she will be a mother by the weekend. Her brain knows, when she's still working, that she has someplace to be tomorrow. Her focus needs to be on getting oxytocin to flow.

Relax. Take some time for you. Gather your girlfriends for some plain ol' fun. Go see a movie. Take a warm bath. Close your eyes. Take some good deep breaths. Enjoy the end of your pregnancy. Burn a favorite candle. Get a pedicure or foot massage. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket and read a book. Nap. Make out with your hubby and have some great candlelit sex. Let the oxytocin flow. Don't fight it. I feel good just writing all this!


Unknown said...

I really liked the part about the adrenalin being the opposite of oxytocin. It is so important for the mother to be surrounded by supportive people with no threat of induction. Did you see the post from "Bellies in Bloom?" It is going to be impossible to get an induction free birth anywhere other than home very soon.

Kristi said...

This post makes me smile!