What’s So Important About Oxytocin?

I was recently at a birth where the mom spent the majority of her labor in her partner’s arms. During particularly intense contractions, he would embrace her and rub her back. Other times they would sit, face-to-face, foreheads touching and hands squeezing together. He experienced every single contraction along with his wife in a way that brought tears to my eyes. It was evident to me that the mama felt loved and cared for, and I watched in awe as she relaxed and melted into her labor — allowing her body to do what it needed to do to birth their baby. This mom ended up dilating very quickly, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was, at least in part, due to all the close contact she shared with her spouse.

So how does close physical contact with your partner help to speed up your labor? The answer is OXYTOCIN. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone.” This is because we release oxytocin when we come into close physical contact with those we love and are connected to. High levels of oxytocin are released during orgasm, during breastfeeding, and even during snuggling or hugging. Surges of oxytocin promote intimacy and trust, which are important ingredients for all healthy relationships.

Not so coincidentally, labor is another event that triggers the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin signals your body to begin having contractions and to continue them until baby is born. This is why it is so important to promote feelings of love, security and peacefulness in order to keep that oxytocin flowing. Moms that feel scared or unsupported may start to produce adrenaline (known as the fight or flight response), which directly counteracts with the important production of oxytocin.

As a doula, one of my goals is to help create environments for my laboring mothers that are peaceful and calm. This encourages the production of oxytocin and minimizes interruptions that can produce fear or adrenaline. Before labor begins, I meet with my clients and learn as much as I can about their preferences – what brings them joy, how they usually release stress, etc. I also understand that the more physical contact a mom has with her partner, the more likely she will be to relax. So I spend a lot of time helping partners feel equipped and supported, so they can in turn help mom feel loved and safe.

A common saying doulas like to use is, “What gets the baby in, gets the baby out.” And what that simply means is that the intimate, loving relationship that came together to create a baby is the best tool for helping the baby to be born as smoothly and quickly as possible. Even though you’re in labor, it shouldn’t mean romance is off the table! Go ahead and dim the lights. Get some soft music playing. Share some kisses and snuggles. Be held. Feel safe. Feel loved. And watch the amazing power of oxytocin work wonders as you birth your beautiful baby.