Baby and You

Baby and You - Session 1 - Hormones

July 06, 2020



So labour, like pregnancy and a lot of things in our life, is governed by a beautiful cocktail of hormones. We don’t really know what puts us into labour, we know it’s a combination of things. We don’t always know what that key factor is, but one of things it definitely is, is hormones. When we talk about the hormones of labour, the two main hormones for a nice straightforward labour are oxytocin and endorphins. Oxytocin is the hormone of love and attachment and we release gallons of oxytocin during labour and in the immediate post-natal period. During labour, there are two main mechanisms working and they are the two main parts of the nervous system. They are the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is what we call the ‘rest and digest’, where everything is working as it should do and there’s no danger, your body is functioning exactly as it needs to and it’s just keeping you in a normal state for what you need to do. The other side of that is the sympathetic nervous system which is the fight, flight, or freeze mechanisms. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in if your brain picks up that you are in any sort of danger.   The parasympathetic nervous system is the bit that we really want to be functioning very well when you are in labour because that is where oxytocin is released from.

When you are in labour, what you want to be releasing is lots of is oxytocin. The more oxytocin you release, the more surges you will get. For oxytocin to be released, you need to feel safe and secure and feel that everything is going okay. If you start to feel nervous and anxious then your sympathetic nervous system will kick in and you will release adrenalin. Our bodies are very clever because we can not release adrenal and oxytocin at the same time. If you end up releasing adrenalin, then your labour will slow down, or it may even stop. They are the two main things that interact together. We can talk a little bit about how we can prevent the release of adrenalin and improve the release of oxytocin during labour. The other thing to talk about is the endorphins that you will naturally release. When you go into labour your brain recognises that you are in labour and you will release nature’s own pain relievers which are endorphins. These give you the tools you need to deal with the power of the surges. We will talk a little bit about pain relief in the next session, but just know that your body does release its own natural pain relief in labour.

The other thing that’s worth talking about is if women are in that relaxed and confident state during the birth then we know that the blood flow will be really good to the uterus, the heart, the lungs, and all the things that are working hard to birth the baby. But if women feel that their environment has been disturbed at all, oxytocin will slow right down, and women will start to release lots of adrenalin and the blood flow changes and will often go to the limbs rather than the uterus. Sometimes we find that if mums are quite distressed it can lead to foetal distress so the environment that we can provide for women in labour is really important.