Love at the molecular level is all about oxytocin—the key ingredient in a mother’s intimate connection with her baby. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Male and female alike, we all have hormones. It’s part of being human.

Sometimes, you might hear people say that women in pregnancy can be very hormonal.

What does that mean?

Quite simply, a woman’s body undergoes many hormonal changes during pregnancy, all of which can affect how she feels. This obviously affects emotions.

I’ve had women tell me they were more talkative or more stoic during pregnancy. Some cried more frequently, others were quicker to anger.

My favorite story came from a woman who told me she never cried during movies. She just didn’t.

When she got pregnant, she could hardly believe it when, one afternoon, she found herself crying over a TV commercial.

A commercial? I figured it must have been about babies, children or families. We laughed when she told me it had been a commercial about a Ford truck!

Oxytocin

One hormone you’ve probably heard about it oxytocin. (Pitocin, used for inductions of labor and augmentation of labor, is the synthetic form of oxytocin.)

Oxytocin is also called the love hormone, or the calming hormone. It’s produced in the brain, the hypothalamus, then goes to the pituitary gland and is then released into the bloodstream.

It’s also released at other times in our lives, not just pregnancy.

Positive social interactions and positive events can release oxytocin, as can intercourse or cuddling. It also helps provide an anti-stress feeling.

Oxytocin plays a huge role in labor and beyond.

A 2007 study in the journal Psychological Science found that higher levels of oxytocin in the first trimester are associated with a greater likelihood of a mother displaying bonding behaviors with the baby after birth, such as singing and bathing activities.

What exactly does oxytocin do during labor? As the level of oxytocin rises, it promotes contractions.

Oxytocin levels also increase at the time of pushing, called Ferguson’s reflex.

Ferguson’s reflex is a surge of oxytocin that happens as the baby is descending in the birth canal. This gives the mom the urge to push.

Oxytocin can also help decrease the chances of excess bleeding after birth.

At Spectrum Health hospitals, pitocin is given after delivery, with nurses administering the drug by IV or injection. Pitocin helps shrink the uterus, which can help stop excessive bleeding.

As it pertains to breastfeeding, Oxytocin provides that calming, feel-good characteristic that is so great for moms, especially when the rest of life can be very busy. A mother’s body will continue to produce the hormone for the duration of her breastfeeding period.

The family plan

Is it possible to help a mom release more of her natural oxytocin? Absolutely.

Here are some steps you can take:

Make mom feel safe, loved and comfortable in a calming atmosphere. Typically, moms will prefer quieter rooms with less light. This is something that can be discussed with a provider and family members ahead of time.
Play music or relaxation scripts to help minimize adrenaline, which is a stress hormone.
Keep the mood on the lighter side whenever possible. Laughing is known to help produce oxytocin—but try to recognize when mom is in the mood for laughter.
Never underestimate the power of kisses. Ina May, a famous midwife, touts smooching as a great way to keep labor going.
Use mantras, prayers or sounds to keep things calm and positive. Positive visualizations and hypnosis can be helpful. This is where coaches and doulas are often invaluable, as they provide much-needed encouragement.
Encourage moms to use an upright position to push, as this can stimulate more oxytocin release.