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.

15 Amazing things that happen when you are pregnant

 

The incredible process of pregnancy and birth never ceases to amaze me, so here are 15 of my favourite amazing things that happen when you are pregnant

  1. You have 50% more blood

With all the changes of pregnancy and incredible, mind-blowing miracle of your developing baby, your body is having to work super hard. All this extra work requires more blood vessels and so more blood. By the 20th week of pregnancy, it is estimated that your body has 50 percent more blood than it did when you conceived with 20% extra blood cells to carry oxygen around your body and down to your baby.

 

2. Hormones and increased blood gives you the wonderful “glow” in pregnancy

The famous “glow” actually comes partly from this increased blood in your system as your circulation improves you have more blood flowing through your vessels and cells.  In addition higher levels of sebum helps keep your skin supple plus your skin retains moisture and so your skin cells are plump up smoothing out wrinkles or fine lines.

3. Your body grows a completely new, life-sustaining yet temporary organ.how the placenta works

The placenta! About a week after conception, as soon as the tiny embryo is nestled into your womb lining, the outer lining of the embryo transforms into the placenta. How cool is that! Once it is established it becomes a filtration system which brings blood to the baby and takes away the babies waste products.

The placenta grows in size during your pregnancy and weighs about 1.5 lbs at the end of your pregnancy.

4. Your placenta is also a mini hormone factory

As well as being the only temporary organ, it is also an endocrine organ, meaning it actually makes hormones. These hormones, from human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG, the hormone detected in pregnancy tests) to oestrogen and progesterone, are crucial for maintaining the pregnancy and preparing your breasts for nursing.

  1. Your bones begin to loosen up

As you already know, it is quite mind boggling to think of a baby’s head passing through what appears to be a very narrow and bony passage way. As to be expected, your body has an amazing plan to help and that is the wonder hormone relaxin which increases by 10 times during your pregnancy. This hormone softens and relaxes the cartilage that holds the pubic bone together so helping them loosen up to allow your baby to be born. However

  1. Your feet may get bigger!foot

Relaxin isn’t targeted just to the pelvis – it can loosening ligaments throughout your body and so make the bones spread out a bit more, sometimes resulting in your shoe size increasing during pregnancy.

  1. You may get heart ache

But not because you’re sad. Many women experience a sensation of heartburn which is caused by the pressure of your tummy puts on the digestive system. For most people, when they get acid in their stomach, it is kept down by a ring of muscles in the diaphragm that stops acid going back up the system when pressure in the abdomen rises. But during pregnancy, the hormone progesterone relaxes that ring of muscles. So as the bigger baby gets, the more pressure it puts on the intestines and stomach.

  1. Your hair and nails grow faster
    BEAUTIFUL NAILS

Once again your pregnancy hormones are supper helpful at helping us look great! Around the fourth month, your nails may start to grow faster. However a not so good effect is that your nails may also become softer or more brittle too. In the second trimester, you may notice your hair looks amazing – this is due to the fact that you are not losing hair like you normally do and so your hair looks thicker.

  1. You get bigger boobs!

The average woman will add get about 2lb in bonus breast tissue. These changes are all down to your fab hormones as they prepare your breasts for producing exactly the right milk for your baby. The not so good bit is that as the tissue and milk ducts develops, it can slightly stretch the skin which is why your boobs can feel a bit itchy and sore

10. You can start to produce milk from as early as 16 weeks gestation!

By 16 weeks your body is already geared up to produce milk so you may find that tiny drops of yellow liquid coming from your nipples. This yellow milk is called colostrum and is absolutely jam packed with good ness and nutrients

11. Your bladder gets squashedtoilet

Needing to pee becomes a very normal part of pregnancy.  But why? Well that is down to your gorgeous little bundle of joy whose growing weight pushes directly down on top of your bladder. The pressure not only means more trips to the loo, but a cough, sneeze or giggle can cause leakage – lovely! In addition the hormones in your body relax the tubes from your kidney so the flow of urine is increased.

  1. Your baby is first in the queue for vitamins and nutrients.

As you already know it is so important to eat healthily in pregnancy. That does not mean eating for 2, but it does mean eating enough healthy, food rich in vitamins and minerals to feed both you and your baby. All the nutrients and vitamin in your blood stream will pass through to your baby ensuring that your baby gets first take on all the nutrients he needs, then whatever is left goes through to your system.

  1. Your baby can taste your dinner too!garlic-with-parsley-leaves

Strong flavours like garlic, ginger, olives and chilli can pass through your amniotic fluid (and your breast milk) and so into your baby. A study showed that babies whose mothers drank a lot of carrot juice showed signs of enjoying carrot juice more than mothers who had not drunk juice in pregnancy.

  1. Amniotic fluid is the perfect shock absorber

Amniotic fluid plays a vital role in the development of your baby.  It helps maintain a steady warm temperature, it helps lubricate your baby’s skin as it is growing and developing and helps you baby move and exercise. It is also a terrific shock absorber so your baby is protected from any bumps or knocks that you may experiences.

  1. Your baby helps make amniotic fluidmannequin de pis

From about 4 months your baby’s kidneys will start working and so he will add to the fluid every time he wees! His whole system will get lots of practice before he is born as he swallows the amniotic fluid, wees it out, and swallows it again and so on.  But don’t worry it is completely sterile and completely harmless.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these amazing things that happen when you are pregnant.  Leave a comment with your favourite.

If you are pregnant and want to find out how you can prepare yourself for a positive birth download this free 5 steps to a better birth poster

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You can also get a FREE 15 minute Pregnancy Relaxation track to help you take time to chill out!

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For more information on the UK’s leading Hypnobirthing downloads and classes click here

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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!
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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

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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

The secret to coping with labour

scared of giving birth
Are you scared of giving birth?

If you are currently pregnant or even planning to have a baby then the thought of giving birth will have crossed your mind once or twice!  From those cringe worthy sex education videos to One Born Every Minute the message most women get is clear. Birth hurts like hell, that you will be in labour for days, that you are likely to scream the place down and turn the air blue with a few choice words begging for drugs. Is it any wonder then that 8 out of 10 women in a Mother and Baby survey were terrified of giving birth?  So could there be a secret to coping with labour that is not publicly “out there”?

Well, if you were to switch over to the Discovery channel and were to watch a programme of any other mammal giving birth, she would be quiet, calm, mobile and seem to just get on with it.  We know that mammals register and feel pain, yet somehow during labour they don’t seem to show the same characteristics as women on OBEM.

So do you think that maybe there is a chance that women could also experience labour and birth being calm, more in control and better able to deal with the pain? What is this secret to coping with labour and how you can turn from a potential screaming banshee to a calm, serene birthing goddess?

Well, it all comes down to hormones and how you are feeling in the lead up to and during the labour.  If you are scared your body will be in a “fight or flight” mode and birth becomes tough; if you are calm, relax and breathe slowly, your body can just get on with it. To put it into context, imagine you are labouring alone out in the wild. Suppose you saw or even thought you saw a dangerous animal lurking in the shadows. What do you think would happen? Would you have a conscious choice on what happens next? Simply believing there is a wild animal in your birth space would instantly stimulate the “fight or flight” response. Your muscles would tighten, blood would flow to your limbs and contractions would slow down or stop and would not resume until you felt safe.

This fear, whether real or imagined, activates the nervous system to produce adrenaline (danger hormone), which gives you a burst of power to fight or to run away. Your cervix tightens (to prevent giving birth where it is not safe) and the increased level of adrenaline neutralises the oxytocin (the hormone responsible for your contractions) so that your body slows down or even stops labour. All this “fight or flight” preparation uses a great deal of energy and as our bodies were only designed to be in this state for a few minutes, you can imagine that staying in this state for prolonged periods of time will lead to prolonged labour, horribly painful contractions which will be extremely exhausting for both mum and baby.

This is essentially about fear, any fear – fear of pain, fear of dying, fear of tearing. Your nervous system does not know the difference between fear from real danger or imagined fear, from what you may have seen on the tele or told by friends and family and so your body will respond in the same way to both. If you go into labour feeling and being frightened, your system will respond accordingly.

So what is the secret to coping with labour and birth?

Ultimately it is about learning to let go of fear and to work with your body to stay as relaxed and calm as possible. By being able to relax during labour, your body responds in a very different way to the fear scenario described above. When you are relaxed, your breathing is even, ensuring a high level of oxygen is entering both you and your baby’s body, helping your baby remain calm and stable. Increased oxygen stimulates the production of oxytocin (hormone responsible for contractions) and the natural pain-killer, endorphins. As the uterus has no resistance or tension from surrounding muscles, the contractions are more effective and more manageable. Other natural hormones also increase in including relaxin which allows the tissue of the birth canal to relax, soften and expand.

One of the easiest and most relaxing ways to help you shift from being anxious to being calmer, is to listen to a Natal Hypnotherapy album in the weeks leading up to the birth. Over 2000 midwives now recommend award-winning Natal Hypnotherapy  as they have seen how beneficial it can be for both mum and baby. Listening to one of the tracks is a great excuse to go and lie down for half an hour knowing you are doing something really practical and useful to prepare for the birth.

My voice (british accent by the way) guides you into a deeply relaxed state using breathing techniques, guided imagery and visualisation. You can get a free 15 minute track by clicking here. Once you are deeply relaxed, your conscious mind becomes quiet and you become open and receptive to positive suggestions about the birth, learning coping strategies and pain management techniques, all geared towards helping you stay calm and able to deal effectively with contractions.

Hypnobirthing track
Natal Hypnotherapy hypnobirthing

As any midwife will tell you, the secret to coping with labour is to relax and breathe. By listening to a hypnobirthing track over and over again before labour you become brilliant at relaxing and effective breathing and are mentally familiar with the processes of giving birth, which naturally increases your confidence and reduces any fear associated with birth. The hypnotherapy techniques put you in control, so that you have all the coping strategies you need for the big day, no matter who else is there to support you.

You can learn more about how to help yourself during pregnancy and birth with my top tips emails

You can also read Jennifer’s birth story on how she used this secret to coping with labour.

If you’re not sure what this hypnobirthing stuff is like then you can get this FREE pregnancy relaxation hypnobirthing track

Click to download your FREE track