How to 'hack' your hormones for a better birth

What is Oxytocin? What hormones are responsible for birth? And how can I make the most of these hormones for my birth? Midwife Lauren Brenton outlines it for us.

There are three main hormones that can influence a woman’s labour and birth. Firstly, a hormone is a chemical that is released from the brain in order to cause a reaction in the body, in terms of birth these hormones can work together to help your labour and birth progress. There are Oxytocin, Endorphins and Adrenaline. So, let’s talk about these hormones…

Oxytocin is the love hormone, it is the hormone that is responsible for giving you those happy love feelings but it is also responsible for controlling your uterine contractions as well as having a vital role in breastfeeding your baby. Oxytocin is released during labour and birth to create strong, regular uterine contractions. Thus, pushing the baby’s head down further onto the cervix, encouraging the cervix to thin (efface) and open (dilate) to allow your baby to be born. Once you are fully dilated (10cm dilated) it is essential that your contractions are strong and regular to help you push your baby and placenta out, as well as continue contracting after birth to reduce your postpartum blood loss. As you can see, having as much oxytocin flowing during your labour and birth can benefit you in so many ways!!

How can you maximise your natural oxytocin:

  • Set up your own birth space. This will look different for everyone, however you want to create an environment that is calm, warm, dark and comfortable. This will help you stay calm and help your oxytocin flow. Some examples include playing calming music, keeping the room dark and warm, bringing some blankets or pillows from home, battery operated fairy lights and/or using an electric diffuser.
  • Staying mobile in labour and avoiding an epidural can help keep your baby’s head well applied to the cervix thus encouraging the body to continue releasing oxytocin.
  • Antenatally expressing in labour can help encourage the body to release more oxytocin in preparation for feeding your baby.
  • Stay close and utilise touch with your partner during labour to get those lovey feelings and help that oxytocin flow. Using the bath or shower for pain relief is another great way to utilise touch to relax and release your oxytocin.

Endorphins are your body’s natural pain relief hormones, the release of endorphins increases steadily towards the end of pregnancy and peaks during the pushing stage of labour and continue into the postpartum period. These endorphins can give you a euphoric feeling and help you cope with your labour as it progresses, plus endorphins also help you with bonding with your baby after birth. 

It is important to know that research has shown that the use of an epidural during labour can cause a steady drop in the body’s endorphin levels.

Ways that you can maximise your endorphins include:

  • Using a birth comb during your labour presses on the acupressure points in your hand to encourage your body to release more endorphins as well as distract you from the pain of the contractions
  • Using a TENS Machine is a great way to help disrupt the pain pathway to the brain, enabling you to cope better with the pain of the contractions, stay mobile and avoid or delay the use of an epidural.
  • Try to avoid disturbances from outside noise, people, bright lights or excessive vaginal examinations. Staying calm and in the zone can help you stay relaxed and maximise your body’s release of endorphins.

Adrenaline is the flight or fight hormone, adrenaline blocks the release of oxytocin and can stall your labour and birth. During labour and birth, you want to reduce your levels of adrenaline to maximise the release of oxytocin.

Some ways that you can minimise your adrenaline levels during labour include:

  • Having privacy, especially during vaginal examinations or medical procedures
  • Staying calm, relaxed and in the zone. Make sure that you set up your calming birth space to help you stay calm and relaxed. The One Mama Midwife Labour Hits playlist can also help keep you calm.
  • Be educated – having knowledge through attending a birth class can help you to feel empowered and in control of you labour, therefore reducing your fear and anxiety.
  • Having trusted health care providers will also help reduce your fear and anxiety around labour and birth.
  • Having a good birth support person who is fully informed, calm, positive and able to provide you with both the physical and emotional support you require.

Through having knowledge about labour and confidence in your body, you are able to maximise the release of the hormones oxytocin and endorphins, while decreasing the release of the hormone adrenaline. Therefore, helping you better cope with your labour and increase your satisfaction with your birth experience.

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