Oxytocin – what it is and how to make the most of this amazing hormone

queen of hormonesFor anyone about to have a baby, an understanding of Oxytocin and the best conditions to maximise its production is essential. Here are my thoughts on what oxytocin is, how it works, what can prevent it from working effectively and what a woman can do to overcome those challenges.

Oxytocin – The Love Hormone

Oxytocin is the queen of all hormones – The term was originally coined in the 1920s and was a derivative of the Greek words oxus and tokos meaning quick childbirth. Oxytocin has more recently been named as the “hormone of love” by Michel Odent who says that “Whatever facet of love we consider, oxytocin is involved”. 

Oxytocin is released in any situation that we feel “love”: during love-making, birth, breastfeeding, bonding, cuddling and so on. It truly is the X factor that drives couples together and that keeps them together.  The production of oxytocin leads to feelings of calm, well-being, patience, increased social behaviour, lower blood pressure, better digestion and better healing. It even makes breastfeeding mothers more tolerant of monotony, and thus better able to cope with the challenges of early motherhood. And as it is not a “one-hit wonder”, the more oxytocin we have in our system, the more we produce and the better we feel. In research it has been shown to have a cumulative effect, so, the more frequently we are exposed to oxytocin, the longer the effect lasts.

Oxytocin during pregnancy

pregnanct woman in the grassDuring pregnancy, oxytocin levels are low, but they begin to increase towards the end of the last trimester.  During pregnancy, oxytocin triggers frequent uterine contractions, which help to strengthen the uterus and maintain the pregnancy, stimulating the flow of blood from the placenta to the baby. These are often known as “Braxton Hicks” contractions.  Even though no one is exactly sure how labour is triggered, we do know that it is oxytocin which is the “driver” behind labour. It is the pulsating release of oxytocin which triggers the long muscles of the uterus to reach down and gently ease open the circular muscles of the cervix. As the uterus contracts, signals are sent to the brain to produce more oxytocin, which helps the uterus contract more effectively, thus making more oxytocin, and so on. This wonderful cycle of triggers and hormone production will continue throughout labour, as long as the mother is not disturbed (see below).

Oxytocin during labourkeep calm and release oxytocin

During labour, oxytocin receptors throughout the body are on high alert. These receptors are found in the cervix, birth canal, perineum, vagina and nipples, and even in the skin. Gentle pressure, massage and stimulation in any of these areas (the release of oxytocin during massage is well reported) ensure that the production of oxytocin will remain steady and high, as long as there is no interference from fear-induced adrenalin, drugs or artificial hormones (see below). Once the gap in the cervix is large enough for the baby to pass through, and the head begins to press down into the birth canal, the receptors there send a new wave of signals, which trigger another wave of oxytocin, as the energy of the contractions changes to one of pushing down rather than opening the cervix.

As well as the physical effects, oxytocin helps a woman to mentally “go off to a different plane” or “go into the zone” so that she “lets go” on a psychological, as well as a physiological level, allowing her body to take control.

At the moment of birth, if it is undisturbed, unobserved and there is minimal interference, a woman will experience a higher level of oxytocin in her body than at any other time. The reasons for this are many fold. Firstly, it is designed to produce an overwhelming feeling of love towards the baby, facilitating the process of “falling in love”. Again, nature is very clever, as this wonderful feeling is a powerful incentive and driver for a mother to look after her baby.

So what can interrupt the flow of Oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a very sensitive and shy hormone.  It works wonderfully well when a woman is feeling safe, warm and unobserved – so the conditions in which a baby is made are the best conditions in which to birth a baby. However for many women giving birth these days, there may be times when these conditions are not possible or are disturbed.  If a woman is not aware of these and why oxytocin is slowing down then it can lead to a stall in labour and then possibly on to the cruelly termed “failure to progress”.

Here are the main reasons that can result in a slowing down in the production of oxytocin.

Pregnant lady hiding behind her hands

  • any sudden disturbance or interference
  • anxiety or fear
  • embarrassment
  • feeling observed
  • feeling cold
  • being exposed to loud noises
  • stimulation of the neo cortex eg talking, form filling, analysing
  • medical interventions such as induction, epidural, anaesthetic injections or episiotomy

By being aware that these things may interrupt the flow of oxytocin and hence possibly stall or slow down your labour, then you can plan ways in advance to deal with any eventuality on the big day.

What can I do if this happens?

Lets face it – some of these things are likely to happen during labour – it would be almost impossible for none of these to take place. So if you experience any of these, then my advice is to accept that they have happened, let the moment pass so it is in the past, then put the some or all of the following into action:-

  • take a few moments as soon as you can to stop everything you are doing,
  • take a few deep breaths
  • close your eyes
  • use your mind to become still again
  • put on some relaxing music
  • have a long hug with someone
  • turn down the lighting
  • burn some aromatherapy oils
  • practice being really mindful and aware of your breathing and your body
  • use visualisation to help take your mind to a calm place
  • count slowly to 10 talking a deep breath with each count.
  • do what you can to make your birthing space becomes quiet, dark, safe and warm
  • practice relaxing each of the muscle groups in your body
  • get into a warm bath
Effective Birth Preparation Book
Effective Birth Preparation Book

If you have been using Natal Hypnotherapy then you can also use the techniques you have practiced, especially 321 relax, your rapid relaxation trigger, shaking the apples and creating your Baobab (You can learn more about these techniques from The Effective Birth Preparation book or by attending one of our popular Natal Hypnotherapy courses around the UK).

So in summary, by understanding how Oxytocin works and the conditions in which it flows most freely, you can begin to prepare your environment as well as your physical and mental preparation. Plan ways to make your birthing space as calm, quiet, dark and safe as possible – You can make this happen in almost any setting by having an eye mask, ear plugs, a favourite blanket or even duvet to snuggle under and someone with you that you love and trust. Learn techniques to help you relax deeply, breath calmly and stay mentally calm such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga or hypnotherapy. And remember that if you experience any of the disturbances listed above, you can still get back into a calm birthing rhythm and so encourage this queen of hormones to reign supreme!

If you would like to learn more about hypnosis and how it can help you stay calmer, more focused and so better able to release this wonderful hormone click here.

To get started straight away you can download a free 15 minute Pregnancy Relaxation track.

Click to download your FREE Pregnancy relaxation track

You can read more about this queen of hormones with my Top 20 facts about Oxytocin blog post.

Best Christmas ever – a peaceful birth under the xmas tree!

Using hypnosis for pain management
Using hypnosis to anesthetize arm

With Christmas around the corner, I thought I would focus on lovely Christmas birth stories.  Here George tells of her journey using and developing her Natal Hypnotherapy skills to help her have the best Christmas ever! After listening to the Natal Hypnotherapy tracks and attending a weekend course, she wrote her own script to really personalise her birth preparation.

“Having used hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis for a number of years and experienced the sometimes life-changing results (including sticking a nappy pin through my arm!), it wasn’t a question of if I would use it during my pregnancy and the birth of Danuta, but rather how I could use it.  Not only had I never given birth before but we also had our hearts set on a home birth, which if we were to listen too carefully to conventional current medical opinion, was a crazy plan fraught with issues – what if it goes wrong?  You will only have gas and air – what if you need an epidural/c-section – think about the transfer times to hospital – you don’t know your own body, being a first-timer – you are putting yourself and your baby at great risk – what you are considering is very selfish.  All of these words had come from my doctor and pretty much every mainstream birthing text-book backed her up.  Any basic birthing instinct to bring your baby into this world in a safe, comfortable and loving environment is dangerous and selfish.  And she’s a doctor, so she must be right…

In my experience, a Natal Hypnotherapy approach turns the whole what-if-it-goes-wrong starting point on its head and focuses instead on the perfect and unique birthing experience for the individual woman or couple.  If you dare to allow yourself to visualise it, what factors would feature in your perfect birthing experience?  For me, Christmas is a very special time of year that holds with it feelings of childhood excitement and happiness – just the smell of a mince-pie or the sound of carols being sung makes me glow inside, so the fact that our baby was due around this time had all the makings of the best Christmas ever.

Throughout my pregnancy I had spent time listening to a Natal hypnotherapy relaxation tracks (you can get a free download by clicking here) which, whilst increasing my bond with our growing baby inside, also helped me tune into my natural instincts as a mother-to-be.  In the third trimester Adam and I attended a Natal Hypnotherapy weekend and this is when we really began to focus our minds on the actual birth and the writing of our own birthing programme.  Using emotive language that was very specific to our own personalities we developed a script that described the perfect birthing experience – how we would feel, how we would react to certain phases or situations, images, sounds and smells that would trigger positive emotional responses.  For example:

The sounds of the music, which are now familiar to me, reinforce my natural feelings of relaxation and calm, allowing me to fall deeper and deeper into a comfortable, peaceful feeling of complete relaxation…

an extract from the birthing programme – earlier stages of labour

…with each contraction I visualise my cervix softening and opening slowly softening and opening gently, smoothly and easily…

george adam and danuta after birth
The best Christmas ever

an extract from the birthing programme – final stages of labour

I would read the birthing programme often, really soaking up the words that meant so much to us and once in a relaxed state of self-hypnosis I would then recall these words, images and feelings to the sounds of music that would accompany us in the birthing experience.  The more often I listened, the deeper into my subconscious these associations were going.  The Christmas tree bauble I knew so well, the stocking hung by the fireplace ready for baby’s presents, the smell of Christmas spices – all of these factors meant excitement, comfort, happiness and deeper and deeper confidence to birth our baby safely and naturally.

The due date came and went and as the days ticked by, talk was turning to induction – this is when I felt my most sacred.  Not because of the dangers of letting me go over, but because I just felt baby wasn’t ready yet and that he or she would decide when it was time to meet us.  Things were happening – we’d had a show and, having had contractions for 2 weeks now, I was already 3 cms dilated.  14 days after her official due date and on the day we were due to go into hospital, baby Danuta decided it was time to join us and she wasn’t hanging about either.

George and Danuta
George and Danuta

The experience certainly wasn’t without pain and there was no time for birthing music CDs or Christmas spice oils, but I wouldn’t change a single moment.   Focusing on each contraction took me deep down into the experience and during the later stages the visualisation of my cervix softening and opening was intensely powerful and effective.  Adam was fully involved at all times and helped communicate my feelings to the midwife during contractions as well as somehow knowing what to say at right time.  We birthed our daughter in our front room next to the Christmas tree and in front of the open fire and Christmas stockings – four and a half hours after waking with strong contractions I was holding Danuta in my arms, crying at the beauty of our perfect baby girl who truly made this the best Christmas ever!

With the support and confidence of an amazing partner, an experienced and trusted doula and our very special birthing programme, I was never in any doubt we were doing the right thing.  I was frightened then angered by the words of my doctor, I was upset by the reaction of some friends, but I never once doubted my instincts to birth Danuta at home using hypnosis.  I can’t wait to give her a brother or sister.”

A wonderful story of a couple taking their birth preparation into their own hands for the best christmas ever!
Click to download your FREE track

Preparation is key for a positive birth experience

Liz and Robin (small
Liz and baby Robin

“When we found out that we were expecting our first baby both my partner and I were in agreement that we would like our pregnancy and birth to be as natural as possible. and that we wanted to really prepare for a positive birth experience. From the outset my pregnancy was healthy and straightforward and, with the support of our brilliant midwife, it seemed a natural choice for us that we should have our baby at home. I felt so well that it seemed bizarre to me that we should have to go into hospital for such a natural and normal thing as childbirth. I also wanted a birth where both my partner and I felt confident and in control, and where we were at lowest risk of unnecessary intervention – for us it felt that hone was the place where we were most likely to achieve this.

On doing further research it became clear to me that preparation is key in facilitating a positive birth, especially a home birth – in terms of logistical preparations to ensure our home was birth ready, but also my own physical and emotional preparations. It was in this second aspect where Natal Hypnotherapy was key.

In undertaking our course with Natalie, and engaging in self-hypnosis during pregnancy meant that I went into labour relaxed, confident and free of fear. As a couple the course also connected us to each other and to our baby and was particularly successful in supporting my partner to be as engaged, proactive and confident as possible in the pregnancy, labour and birth (see Olympic Gold medalist Greg Rutherford’s review of The Natal Hypnotherapy course). This was particularly important to me as the birth of our baby was something  I absolutely wanted us to do together  – I did not want my partner to be sidelined by the excitement of the moment or by medical professionals supporting the birth.

I eventually went into labour one week before the due date that I had been give when my waters broke at home around 1pm. I felt relaxed and in control throughout the labour and this meant that although at times I was uncomfortable at no point would I have described the experience as being painful or unmanageable. In fact, I felt so relaxed that when our midwife came to check me about 4pm that afternoon she said I was not in established labour and that it would most likely be sometime before the baby arrived. In actual fact we called her back later that evening and by the time she arrived just before midnight I was already fully dilated and our son was born about thirty five minutes later?

Robin Arthur weighed a healthy 8lb 9ozs and came into the world in the calm and peaceful way I had hoped for without any intervention or pain relief! We have no doubt that Natal Hypnotherapy was a key factor in making this possible. On the whole Robin is a very relaxed and content baby and we are sure that the hypnotherapy I have learned also contributed to that due to the way it allowed me to connect with my baby during pregnancy, labour and beyond.

Natal Hypnotherapy has been a brilliant thing for us and I would not hesitate recommending it. It really helped us prepare for a positive birth. Regardless of where or how you choose to give birth I fell it has the power to make anybody more relaxed, confident and engaged during the incredible time that their baby is born.”

 

Thanks Liz for sharing your lovely and inspiring birth story.

If you have found this useful and would like to try out a Natal Hypnotherapy track for FREE then click here

Click to download your FREE track

You can find a class near to you by clicking here

NatalieQureshi_Natal Hypnotherapy, Manchester
Natalie Qureshi, Natal Hypnotherapy Practitioner, Manchester

Liz took her Natal Hypnotherapy class with Natalie Qureshi who runs class in Manchester

One Born Every Minute – a dad’s journey from a traumatic birth to an inspirational birth

This blog looks at how Paul’s journey took him from coping with a traumatic birth to being an integral part of an inspirational birth.

Channel 4 OBEM
Paul and Nadine talking about their positive expereince of using Natal hypnotherapy

Having met Nadine a few times I knew how much a positive birth experience had meant to her. Especially after the difficulties she had with her first labour. However, as often happens, a father’s perspective of the birth can be somewhat overlooked.

I was therefore so pleased when Paul sent me this video. He gives his perspective of their first difficult birth experience during which he felt like during which they both felt very unprepared and somewhat overwhelmed.  Paul especially felt like a bystander and felt unable to support Nadine in effectively.

When Nadine became pregnant again, they felt so strongly that they wanted to find a different way. Initially, like many partners, Paul was somewhat skeptical about hypnotherapy and had a misguided view of what it meant. However, he goes on to explain so clearly how his view changed once he understood what Natal Hypnotherapy was all about and how much it helped him have a proactive and important role and ultimately an inspirational birth experience.

I won’t give too much away but words like motivational, inspirational, positive, uplifting were words he used to describe the second birth experience.

You can watch his interview here

You can watch Paul and Nadine’s inspirational birth experience on Channel 4’s “One Born Every Minute” at 9pm on August 12th

To learn more about what Paul and Nadine did to prepare Click to download your 5 steps poster

I would love to hear from other partners who felt the same or from mums who saw a similar change in their birth partners.

The Journey to One Born Every Minute – Having a positive birth

Maggie and Nadine

When I was approached by the producers of One Born Every Minute, explaining that one of the women who was being filmed for the programme was using Natal Hypnotherapy, I was somewhat nervous as in the past we have had negative experiences in the way TV shows portray women using Natal Hypnotherapy.  However, I also realised that this would be an amazing opportunity to  of women that birth can be a positive, calm and empowering experience.  I had never met the lady and had no idea what her background was however I knew from years of experience that Natal Hypnotherapy can help all types on women on so many different levels.

The producers put us in touch and I managed to have a few lovely conversations with her before the birth.  She had had a very traumatic birth with her first baby and was adamant that she wanted things to be different this time round.  She had done some research and come across the concept of hypnobirthing which she felt would be worth pursuing. However she had not been keen on some of the methods, as she felt they were too prescriptive, until she came across Natal Hypnotherapy.  She only listened to the CD and read the book (cover to cover!) however the change in her feelings and attitudes towards the forthcoming birth changed beyond belief.

I then heard no more from her until 8am on a Saturday morning last year –   She was still in the hospital and rang me just an hour after giving birth as she could not wait to tell me how the amazing and positive the birth was.  By the end of the conversation we were both in tears!  She really believed that having a positive birth experience was predominantly down to the techniques she had learnt using Natal Hypnotherapy. She was on cloud nine and could not stop telling me how wonderful it was and how amazed the midwives were.  I was thrilled beyond belief for her but also relieved that her experience had been so positive.

Then started the long wait for her birth to finally be shared with millions of viewers!  I have since met her a few times – once when she came to talk at a student midwives study day – it was such a pleasure and delight to see her talk about the birth with such passion and enthusiasm – and an even bigger delight to see the response from the midwives!

Then again when I filmed this lovely interview with her where she talks you through her experience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAxcmLQg3XE?rel=0&showinfo=0&controls=0

To watch the actual programme tune into Channel 4 on August 12th at 9pm.

Nadine
Paul and Nadine on Channel 4’s One born Every Minute

To learn more about what Nadine did to prepare Click to download your poster