Oxytocin! It is absolutely essential for an uncomplicated birth. Oxytocin is the hormone released in largest amounts during orgasm, labor, birth, and breastfeeding. The release of it is dependent on the environment mother is in, the emotions she is feeling, and it is directly related to how quickly, how simply, how healthy, and how satisfying a birth becomes for her and for baby. It's wonderful and absolutely critical!
If you have decided on a hospital birth, it's important to know how to foster oxytocin release since the majority of hospital rooms and protocols are not very conducive to it, hence the very common administration of Pitocin, it's synthetic counterpart but one that contains risk and one that doesn't have the same bonding or positive happy biochemistry characteristics as the original. For many reasons, natural oxytocin release is far superior to that of the synthetic.
Natural oxytocin crosses the blood/brain barrier and allows for the corresponding endorphin release that helps with pain relief, creating a biofeedback loop that continues the cycle of more oxytocin being released so that your labor continues and culminates in the birth of your baby. You can't create too much oxytocin. Your body will regulate it, unlike the artificial intravenous administration of Pitocin. Pitocin doesn't create the same biochemical reaction, bonding, or happy feelings as oxytocin and results in contractions that are different in intensity, length, and experience for both mom and baby. It raises the risk for placental abruption, fetal distress, more interventions, cesarean, and postpartum anxiety and depression. While it is sometimes very helpful and a great tool when used prudently and rarely, it should never be considered an equal replacement to natural oxytocin. So during birth its best practice and makes sense to do what is possible to foster natural oxytocin release!
Many of these tips can also be used during a home birth, of course, but some can and should also be incorporated even into a surgical birth whenever possible. Oxytocin is still important for cesarean mamas, helping to control bleeding, bond with baby, establish nursing, and improve her emotional experience of the birth.
Ways to Foster Oxytocin:
Lower or turn off lights.
Wear your own clothes (you do NOT need to wear a hospital gown for labor).
Encouraging, empowering, and loving words only. Make clear in a birth plan and with support people that criticism, negativity, fear, passive aggression, or coercion have NO place in your room.
Bring meaningful pictures or birth affirmations to hang or set out. A picture of your older children, honeymoon pictures, ultrasound, or positive affirmations are all things that can help release oxytocin and keep your mindset in a helpful place conducive to healthy birth.
Comforting physical touch from your partner or doula. This can be massage, brushing your hair, a foot rub, gentle strokes on your arm...anything that feels good to you during labor will help your oxytocin.
Familiar or pleasant smells. You can bring essential oils or even a blanket from home that has familiar, comforting smells. Your husband's (good) scent can also help!
Limit interruptions from staff or extra people in the room. This is important. When you are in "laborland," being interrupted for checks, questions, or casual conversation can very often interrupt the hormonal interplay your body is trying to create.
Have your husband or doula answer questions for you whenever possible. In the hospital, especially during triage and intake, there are LOTS of questions and thinking coming at you. Whenever possible, keep the lights down, eyes closed, and have someone else answer for you. Unfortunately, "pre-registering" doesn't take most of this away but anything you can do beforehand is helpful.
Hugging, kissing, holding your partner. This is a huge way that dads can be helpful in the birth room.
Play music you love! Music can also help release oxytocin.
Bring an eye mask or ear plugs to get in your zone and block out distractions or unhelpful hospital noises.
Wait to go in until you are likely in transition. It can be tricky to time but waiting until surges are very close together and extremely intense means your natural hormones will be less likely to interrupted when you get in the car or enter the hospital and then "stall."
Smile, laugh, dance! All of these help release oxytocin!
Bring twinkle lights or battery candles. Making the room feel cozy and less sterile is helpful for creating an environment that facilitates oxytocin.
Use the tub or shower. Being in hot water often relaxes us and helps with pain relief. Both of these things will then foster more oxytocin to be released.
Hire a doula to remember all these things so you don't have to ;) A good doula you trust will help with oxytocin release, first by just being someone you trust, but also by helping make sure these things happen! Talk with her in your meetings about things on this list or otherwise that sound appealing to you. It's part of her job to take care of these things so you don't have to worry about it or can be reminded in labor when you might forget.
When we foster good oxytocin release, we foster healthier, simpler births for moms and babies. Choose a place and provider who understand that well and who are completely on board with the beauty and necessity of oxytocin.