Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviours from maternal-infant bonding and milk release to empathy, generosity, and orgasm. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels increase; hence, oxytocin is often called "the love hormone." In fact, the hormone plays a huge role in all pair bonding. The hormone is greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings.
Oxytocin released during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond ultimately helps you to be a great mum in many ways.
How does oxytocin support pregnancy?
- At the beginning of your pregnancy, your oxytocin levels immediately start to rise. This increase alters metabolism and means that pregnant women tend to put on weight in the first trimester. This provides an energy store which can be used later when the foetus is growing faster and needs more calories.
- By the last trimester, oxytocin levels in your blood are significantly higher than they were in the first trimester. The raised hormone levels cause you to be more open in your relationships and more likely to have friendly interactions with your family. You feel less independent and more willing to accept help. This has an important biological function, bringing you closer to those who can support you once your baby arrives.
How does oxytocin support labour and birth?
- At the beginning of labour, spikes of oxytocin in your blood help to induce uterine contractions. The frequency of these spikes increase as labour goes on, peaking during the actual birth of your baby. The release of oxytocin also helps to decrease your sensation of pain.
- Oxytocin is linked to the reward system in the brain. It makes you feel good, which helps to reduce your stress levels after the birth, which may have been exhausting – and perhaps difficult – for both mother and baby.
- There is a scientific reason why mums are encouraged to make skin-to-skin contact with their babies after birth – touch is one of the strongest stimulators of oxytocin release. This flood of oxytocin helps you feel connected to and in love with your baby, and promotes the desire to care for them. A baby’s skin has already been stimulated during contractions in a natural delivery, raising its oxytocin levels. Immediately after birth, the efficiency of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is heightened and exponentially increases oxytocin levels. After skin-to-skin contact with her newborn, a mother will experience her highest-ever level of oxytocin.
How does oxytocin support postpartum?
- The sucking, skin-on-skin activity of breastfeeding triggers an oxytocin release in both baby and mother. It’s a natural pacifier.
- Oxytocin helps you to forget the discomfort of birth. It has a slight amnesiac effect on the mother, dulling the memory of what’s just happened. Mothers who breastfeed, which releases high levels of oxytocin, have a better ability to move on if the birth was traumatic, as the hormone helps you to be more accepting.
- It’s oxytocin that stimulates your milk to flow when you’re breastfeeding. The hormone directly causes the muscles that are responsible for letting down your milk to contract. As you breastfeed, oxytocin levels go up in small spikes, similar to the end of labour. The oxytocin release is tremendous, stimulating the bond between you as well as giving more milk.
- There is a period after birth when women are more committed to their baby than their partner. High levels of oxytocin, and another hormone called prolactin, make it possible for you to focus on your baby to the exclusion of almost everything else. But use oxytocin to stay close to your partner too, stimulating higher levels with plenty of hugs. A father’s oxytocin levels rise when he holds his newborn child, so he will be in the mood to bond too.
How do you increase oxytocin levels?
Raising your oxytocin levels has so many benefits. When you are relaxed, happy and comfortable then oxytocin levels are heightened. Warmth, food, laughter, skin on skin with baby, having a bath, getting some sunshine, stroking your pet, dancing, singing, go for a walk, watch rubbish tv, chat with a close friend, have a cup of tea and cake, use some nice moisturiser, eat some chocolate, stay in your pyjamas all day. Basically, do anything that will help you to get in a happy relaxed place.
By lighting an aromatherapy candle can also help create a cosy comfortable environment, whether it’s in the bath or in your favourite room, a really easy way to support oxytocin.
Using aromatherapy essential oils also have big benefits and influence oxytocin.
Lavender - well known to aid relaxation and promote calm.
Chamomile - soothes, calms and helps to reduce tension and anxiety
Peppermint - a general uplifting and refreshing oil
Clary sage - for labour and birth only, should avoid during pregnancy until 37 weeks, can strengthen contractions and is a great oil for lifting your spirits and reducing anxiety
Jasmine - for labour and birth only, should avoid during pregnancy until 37 weeks, acts as a uterine tonic, painkiller and anti-spasmodic. Also known to strengthen contractions.
Cradle & Tonics motherhood aromatherapy candle collection all support oxytocin. Includes Bump candle for support during pregnancy; Birth candle to be used during Birth; Baby candle for mum and baby during relaxation and feeding time.