Knowing Your Pregnancy Hormones and Their ImportanceFeb 16, 2023
I believe a big part of being prepared for labor and delivery is understanding what is happening to your body. The more you understand what your experience is, the more empowered you will feel. One part of labor education that is often overlooked, is what is happening in your body behind the scenes. Hormones play a big role in your birthing experience and it’s important to have a general understanding of what they impact and how.
First Off, What Are Hormones?
Hormones are the chemical messengers in the body. They travel through your body's bloodstream to regulate your systems. They are an integral part of labor and delivery and your birthing experience. The top hormones in labor are oxytocin, prostaglandins, and catecholamines.
Let’s Get Labor Going
The thought is oxytocin starts labor. Oxytocin comes from the brain and moves to the fetus to stimulate a hormone-like substance called prostaglandins to be released. Prostaglandins soften your cervix and stimulate contractions. The more contractions are stimulated, the more there is a release in oxytocin and the loop feeds into itself.
Oxytocin is the feel-good hormone. We can stimulate oxytocin in many ways such as:
- Smells: Essential oils can assist in creating a relaxing and calm environment.
- Music: I recommend two playlists; one calm and one energetic.
- Positive supportive language from all parties.
- Listening to and/or the use of water.
- Positive affirmations and quotes.
- Pictures of family, friends, vacations, and weddings.
- Flowers in the room.
- Loving and supportive touch.
- Breath Strategies.
- Creating a soothing environment.
This is important to know because if we are afraid, overstimulated, or are feeling vulnerable, we may not produce as much oxytocin and our stress hormones will increase too early, which can be one reason why labor is stalled. Fear and high levels of anxiety/stress may also reduce the release of beta-endorphins secreted by the pituitary gland. This hormone is a pleasure producer, improves pain tolerance, and may create an altered state of consciousness.
Fear can be externally driven, such as a non-supportive environment or decreased comfort. Fear can also be internally driven, such a spiral of negative thoughts (eg. “This is going to last forever.”). It is important to recognize your fears and make sure to break the fear/tension/pain cycle to improve your ability to relax.
Here Come The Catecholamines!
Catecholamines are stress hormones and there is a surge of them during transition.Transition is the end of active labor and the time right before you push. It’s a good time to get a surge of these hormones, as it is necessary to prepare your baby for transitioning into a new environment and it prepares you for the pushing. Do note that this surge of hormones does cause the fight or flight response and you may find you respond to this moment similarly to how you handle stress in real life (calm versus emotionally charged). This is usually when feelings of self-doubt and anxiety emerge. Understanding this and recognizing the why behind your emotional state is important to improve your ability to respond and can help to improve your experience.
Side Note: What Is Pitocin?
We often hear in the hospital setting of Pitocin being used to help stimulate labor… but what is it? Pitocin is the synthetic version of oxytocin, so it helps to stimulate contractions of the uterus and the progression of labor. Do understand that since Pitocin is synthetic and does not have the relationship of feeling to it, you may feel as though the contractions are more intense. To assist with this intensity, consider ways to help stimulate positive emotion and release more oxytocin.
Everyone’s birth goals are unique to them. Understanding your body and its experience can only help you feel more empowered and prepared. If you are in the Columbus or Atlanta area, and are wanting to improve your understanding of the birth experience, we can help you! Click the link below to request a 15-min discovery call.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Emma, PT, DPT, OCS, CMTPT
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