Oxytocin is the hormone that drives the rhythm of labour and birth and the great news is that it is released when we hug one another!
The word oxytocin derives from two Greek words “Oxys” and “Tokos” meaning “quick birth”. It was a British Pharmacologist Sir Henry Hallett- Dale in 1906 who discovered the uterine contracting properties of oxytocin.
It is produced in the posterior pituitary gland and is a peptide of 9 amino acids with a hexagonal shaped molecule the same as seen in a honey comb which is one of nature’s strongest shapes for bonding.
Thanks to masses of recent research into its effects, medical science now accepts that natural Oxytocin is the ‘love’ hormone needed to initiate and maintain labour. Nicknamed the ‘shy’ hormone, it requires a dark, quiet, familiar and non-threatening environment in order to flow (the antithesis of noisy, brightly lit maternity wards with unknown faces coming and going). Its enemy is adrenalin – hence the increasing popularity of birthing mothers using hypnotherapy to stay calm and offset the negative effects of ‘fear, fight and flight.’
The Labor Progress Handbook written by Penny Simkin and Ruth Ancheta describes many ways of encouraging oxytocin to flow such as
“Comforting touch, such as stroking, backrubs and hand-holding.”
Dr Michel Odent is a retired French Obstetrician, famously good at being one step ahead of the game. He is a proper geeky scientist who loves a good statistic; he is the founder of The Primal Health Research Centre in London and in the 1970s was the first obstetrician to write about water-births in medical literature. He introduced the concept of ‘home-like’ birth centres in hospitals and birthing pools – which are standard with us here at the UK Birth Centre.
Odent claims that women should birth with a midwife whom they know and who has a calming influence, a midwife who doesn’t transmit her own adrenalin but instead instils a feeling of relaxation and safety in the woman.
We at Private Midwives know all about the best way to promote Oxytocin to flow!