It’s a hormone of calmness and connection to others, of cooperation and feelings of safety, the hormone of love. We produce peaks of it at special times in our lives- the giddiness we experience when we fall in love (remember?!), the feeling of closeness with a partner after sex, and most of all, immediately after birth, our bodies are designed to flood us with this hormone to ensure we fall in love with our babies.
Not all of us experience this rush of love, and we shouldn’t blame ourselves, or imagine that this means anything about us or our future relationships with our babies. Many typical birth scenarios, heavy with intervention, even subtle stuff, may hamper this chemical response. It can be cultivated over time.
But nature is pretty smart. This baby is most likely going to keep you up all night, and suck on your nipples until they are raw. They may also have made a bit of a mark on their way out. Unless you adore this child, they’ve got no chance of survival. Hence, our bodies are set to tell us “LOVE THIS TINY BEING” to ensure they are cared for. Good work oxytocin, smoothing things over.
But this isn’t the first moment in the process that we rely on this wonder hormone- it’s integral throughout. It’s now thought that the beginnings of a spontaneous labour come about when the baby releases a hormone to signal its readiness to be born, prompting the mother’s oxytocin receptors to be switched on. Then, we wait for the oxytocin to rise, and labour can begin.
Oxytocin is part of a cocktail of hormonal interaction that starts, continues, slows, speeds up, stalls and completes labour. Oxytocin is on the productive side of things. Our bodies are encouraged to labour by its presence, as it tells us that we are in a safe, supported place to bring our babies into the world.
(Induction of labour typically involves being hooked up to a drip of artificial oxytocin (you may hear “pitocin” or “syntocinon”). This doesn’t mimic all the wonderful effects our home grown stuff has on our emotions and behaviours, only the physical impact of uterine surges).
So, this dream drug from our own stores, what can we do to get it high and keep it high as the end of pregnancy approaches?
- Touch. Massage, gentle tickling, kissing, sex, cuddling. All types of comforting touch. Some of these we may rely on our partners for, others we can outsource (I’ll leave that with you). Book a massage with a pregnancy specialist. Get your toddler to stroke your back (worth a go) or at least to snuggle you and let you breathe in their delicious head. Hypnobirthing teaches partners to dish out light tough massage through pregnancy, an incredibly soothing, tingle making technique- my main reason for agreeing to a second child…
- Do things you enjoy. Eat cake, walk along the seafront, or in the woods, watch your favourite film, take a long, candlelit bath. Make time for the things that bring you happiness.
- Laugh. Laugh long, and hard. Comedy shows, a funny film, shared jokes with your partner. Laughing with others is even better. Think of the most you ever laughed in your life, when you (almost or actually) peed a bit, when your mind was so consumed by the feeling you couldn’t think. Laugh like this.
- Head to your woman cave. Oxytocin is considered a shy hormone. Being home, being only with people you feel affection for, or whose company you find soothing will encourage it along. Nesting instincts also relate to oxytocin- making a comfortable space for ourselves and our babies is satisfying and mood enhancing.
- Relaxation. Hypnobirthing teaches women to cultivate this state of deep relaxation on demand, with practice. A state in which our systems calm, a feeling of serenity develops, and pesky stress hormones are kept at bay.
So there you have it, find simple ways to be happy, be calm, feel loved. Get your oxytocin high- this could be all that’s holding you back. And if not, no harm done- it’s a hormone we are driven to seek out- the effects are so pleasant. And the feelings of calmness it brings will support us in making any choices that come along too. Go on- treat yourself to an oxytocin high.