The wonders of your body’s pain relieving
orchestra of labor hormones.
Labor may bring the thought of intense physiological endurance with perhaps little to ease the discomfort of laboring and pushing a tiny human out of your body. This picture of labor doesn’t have to be your reality. Your body is equipped with an amazing orchestra of hormones designed specifically to relieve and energize your body during labor. Knowing how to harness these natural pain relievers could be the difference between being overwhelmed during labor and being empowered to run this incredible marathon.
What hormones is your body producing during labor? Great question!
- Estrogen – This hormone tones your uterus preparing it to receive oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates contractions.
- Oxytocin. The “love hormone.” This hormone is behind your contractions. It is also what allows you to experience milk letdown after birth. When you accomplish an unmedicated birth, i.e no drugs administered during labor, your baby will also be producing oxytocin. The benefits during labor and birth of increased levels of oxytocin are multi-faceted.
- Beta Endorphin – Endorphins are your body’s natural opiods. Again, when you experience an unmedicated labor, endorphins act as pain relievers. You will experience a natural euphoria when these are allowed to act in you during labor. The euphoria is a result of the way dopamine, a feel good hormone, is activated by these endorphins. These hormones also contribute to raising your ability to be alert and present during labor and birth. This is a huge boon for women who would like to feel present during their labor without the groggy mist so often associated with narcotics and sometimes epidural anesthesia.
- Adrenaline, Catecholamines, and Cortisol – Your body uses all of these performance enhancing hormones to birth your baby. The timing of these key hormones is important. Increased levels of these “fight or flight” hormones during the early or active phases of your labor could cause your labor to stop since adrenaline interferes with oxytocin and signals your body to stop labor for fear of danger. However, you need a certain level of cortisol along with adreneline to birth your baby. Babies before birth also require catecholamines to mobilize breathing, blood sugar, body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Babies who are born through c-section lack these essential stabilizing hormones and often suffer a delay in their ability to adapt to life outside the womb.
To help facilitate these incredible pain relieving labor hormones, it is important for the laboring woman to feel emotionally supported. This is where the importance of a supportive care provider, hospital, and labor support team are vital. In the above wonderful book, Birthing Normally after a Cesarean or Two* by Helene Vadeboncoeur, Dr. Jean Saint-Arnaud discusses the importance of emotional expression during labor, and its effect on hormone production:
According to Jean Saint-Arnaud, a Canadian family doctor, if a couple’s emotional experience of labor is overlooked, the most essential part is disregarded…… . Saint -Arnaud feels it’s important for a woman to express her emotions when she’s giving birth since the hypothalamus is the seat of the emotions- and the secretion of endorphins has some connection with the hypothalamus. In addition, the hypothalamus controls the posterior pituitary gland, which releases the hormone oxytocin, which in turn facilitates the work of the uterus. The more emotional expression is encouraged, the more the level of endorphins will rise, he says. Laboring rooms which allow a woman’s nearest and dearest to be present not only facilitate the physiological processes, they also support the emotional and social realities of birth.
There are even more hormones at work besides the few discussed in this article. It is truly amazing what your body is capable of. Keeping your mind focused and relaxing your body will optimize these incredible birth gifts your body and your baby make to help you and your baby during labor and beyond.
*We highly recommend Birthing Normally after a Cesarean or Two (affiliate link) for all expectant mothers. It is part of our lending library.