Oh Happy Hormones
'Birth is first a hormonal process.' Michel Odent
As women, most of us, (and our partners!) are only too aware of how powerfully our hormones can affect our mood and our mind. It’s kind of fascinating and somehow always a surprise how crazy we can be while levels of dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin go out of balance in that touchy / volatile premenstrual week.
Luckily we also have hormones that make us feel really good too. Oxytocin makes us feel love and connection to other people. It is stimulated through touch, hugs, laughter, massage, sex, birth (in buckets!) and breast feeding. All mammals produce oxytocin. When you stroke your cat or pet your dog, you are both getting a hit of oxytocin. At the birth of your baby (the birth of the placenta to be precise) you and your baby will have hugely elevated levels of oxytocin – natures way of ensuring that you fall in love with your baby. From the babies perspective, birth can be quite a trial. Babies also produce oxytocin during delivery and they also share the stuff you are making. If your baby has ample oxytocin during delivery this may well reduce it’s stress levels and help it manage delivery better. It's more likely to quickly adapt to the strange new environment and take to breast feeding more quickly.
Other happy making hormones are endorphins. They are released when the body is very active, like exercise, sex and of course childbirth. They are also produced under stress. You know that feeling when you’ve just begun a run or a swim and for the first 5-10 minutes you are wondering why you chose to do such an unpleasant thing, then suddenly you feel bionic… well that’s the endorphins kicking in. Hugely powerful drugs, for free! These hormones are natural pain killers, building in strength as the demands on the body increase. As your baby shares all the hormones you are releasing during labour, they will be getting the pain reducing effects of the endorphins too, making their journey through the pelvis more comfortable.
Like oxytocin, endorphins have many facets. From an emotional point of view they induce feelings of co-dependency. This is a another major player in those early hours of a new family bonding.
Nature’s got our back. Its wants to create a birth environment that is filled with euphoria helping to ensure a strong bond for the survival of the baby. When we start interrupting the process by administering synthetic hormones (to induce or speed up labour) and pain relieving drugs (epidurals or pethadine), these complex and multifunctional natural hormones don’t get released in the same way. Of course bonding is totally possible in an interrupted birth and also, to point out, that a totally natural birth doesn’t automatically mean instant bonding, but it is best that we understand the possible consequences of our decisions before we make them, rather than after.