If you don't yet know oxytocin's role in our lives, the above joke probably isn't very funny to you.
But I do! I love it so much I have a necklace in the shape of the molecule.
Oxytocin is a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus. It is sometimes referred to as "the love hormone". It has a very vital role in some of the most intimate moments of life. Hugging, sex & orgasm, labor & birth, and breastfeeding all stimulate large releases of this hormone.
But oxytocin plays a part in the little moments in life as well. Eating a delicious meal, laughing with friends, listening to music, even doing charitable acts can trigger oxytocin release.
When your body releases oxytocin it creates a cascade of biological reactions. Among these are feelings of trust, closeness, love, attachment, and safety.
Oxytocin has many roles in both life and birth. In day to day life, oxytocin releases reduce levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body. Oxytocin and cortisol associate like a see-saw. Oxytocin levels going up, cortisol down. Cortisol up, oxytocin down. This relationship has heavy implications for labor and birth.
While it encourages the release of pain-blocking hormones during labor and birth, oxytocin also helps after the baby is born. The first few moments after a baby is born a mother's oxytocin (and other hormones) levels surge. This is what gives the new mother that euphoric sense of immediate love. Women's brains never release oxytocin levels as high as in the moments after her baby is born.
Oxytocin also helps the uterus shrink back down to help stop post-partum bleeding, so it's pretty convenient for your body to release in such large amounts immediately postpartum. Aren't our bodies AMAZING?
After baby is born oxytocin is still a very important hormone. Oxytocin release caused by nipple stimulation triggers our "let down reflex". This causes a woman's breastmilk to be ejected from the breast. It is important to tie back to the fact that stress hormones minimize the release of oxytocin. Stressful environments can severely effect breastfeeding outcomes.
It is important to learn how we can aid oxytocin release in our bodies during labor and postpartum.
If we are going to talk about my lovely oxytocin, we must also talk about the big synthetic elephant in the room. Pitocin.
Pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin, causes your uterine contractions to be longer, stronger, and closer together. It is important to also understand that a commonly used Pitocin reacts differently in the body.
Before I continue, it is vital to say Pitocin has its place and can be a beneficial tool.
However, Pitocin increases risks to mother and baby and is substantially overused in America. More information on Pitocin can be found here but I have shared the reported reactions below:
"The following adverse reactions to Pitocin have been reported in the mother:
Premature ventricular contractions
Rupture of the uterus
Excessive dosage or hypersensitivity to the drug may result in uterine hypertonicity, spasm, tetanic contraction, or rupture of the uterus.
The possibility of increased blood loss and afibrinogenemia should be kept in mind when administering the drug.
Severe water intoxication with convulsions and coma has occurred, associated with a slow oxytocin infusion over a 24-hour period. Maternal death due to oxytocin-induced water intoxication has been reported.
The following adverse reactions to Pitocin have been reported in the fetus or neonate:
Bradycardia (slow heart beat)
Low Apgar scores at five minutes
Premature ventricular contractions and other arrhythmias
Permanent CNS or brain damage
Neonatal retinal hemorrhage
Neonatal seizures have been reported with the use of Pitocin."
In addition to the physical risks, recent studies are showing that women who receive pitocin have higher rates of postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and are more likely to need to be medicated for those conditions.
In addition to increased risk, Pitocin does not cause the same waterfall of hormones to be released in the body.
Here are few additional differences between Pitocin and natural oxytocin:
Your brain releases oxytocin in small spurts based on other hormone levels and how well you're coping with pain. Pitocin is delivered continuously through IV at a constant pace and does not work with your body based on its current state.
Discomfort caused by naturally occurring contractions stimulate the release of pain blocking beta-endorphins. Pitocin contractions, while extremely painful, to not stimulate their release. This, along with the strength of uterine contractions, is why women report such high levels of pain with Pitocin and almost always get pain relieving drugs.
Pitocin does not peak in those moments after birth and therefore can affect the bonding process.
So, while we must acknowledge that Pitocin has its place and its uses, unless medically necessary, induction with Pitocin may not be worth the increased risks associated.
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