Oxytocin is often known as the “love” hormone - it plays a major role in bonding, sex, labor and breastfeeding. Since it’s February, and there’s a little extra oxytocin floating around for Valentine’s Day, I figured this month would be a great way to celebrate nature's love cocktail
Studies have shown that Oxytocin levels are much higher in individuals who are newly partnered compared to single peeps, which likely contributes to that “love high” that we all remember from our first days, weeks and months with a new partner. After time, life stressors and big changes (hello babies and sleep deprivation), those levels can begin to decrease. However, there are certain things you can do to increase Oxytocin (and therefore those fuzzy feelings) with your partner. One example is physical touch like hugging, cuddling, and sex. Physical touch has been shown to increase Oxytocin between partners - even with just having your partner in the same room with you (as long as your relationship is positive).
Another fun study (one that I particularly like as a photographer) showed that simply viewing pictures of your romantic partner can reduce pain. If looking at a picture of your partner can help reduce pain, just imagine how important his role becomes on your baby's birth day...
But Oxytocin isn’t just for lovers. It plays an important role in pregnancy, labor and breastfeeding too.
During pregnancy, Oxytocin levels rise up to 400x from the first trimester to 40 weeks, with the highest levels during labor. One study found that Oxytocin levels in the third trimester may even predict the type of labor a woman will have, with lower levels of Oxytocin being correlated with a self-reported negative labor experience, and higher rates of epidural. All the more reason to increase those fuzzy feelings as often as you can!
Oxytocin plays a major role in uterine contractions that bring on and sustain labor, as well as shrink the uterus after birth. This is why it’s synthetic counter-part, Pitocin, is often used to induce labor and prevent or stop a postpartum hemmorage. Pitocin and Oxytocin are identical in chemical structure, however they act differently in the body. Natural Oxytocin is released both in the blood and the brain during labor, but Pitocin only circulates in the blood (it does not cross the blood/brain barrier).
Oxytocin is also responsible for helping you to bond with your baby after birth. Skin-to-skin snuggles facilitate the release of Oxytocin, as well as decrease cortisol (the stress hormone) in both mom and baby.
Oxytocin plays a part in breastfeeding, too. When your baby nurses, it stimulates the release of Oxytocin which - you guessed it - gives you those warm fuzzy feelings as you stare at your new babe. Oxytocin also helps to contract the milk ducts to push the milk out and facilitate the let-down reflex.
Speaking of LOVE and new baby snuggles, check out the galleries page to get your brand new squish fix. But be careful - these images might give you baby fever!