What is oxytocin?

It’s the cuddle hormone. It’s the hormone of love, bonding, sex, labor and breastfeeding. Your brain makes it in the hypothalamus and stores it to be released from the  pituitary gland. Oxytocin controls the following reflexes: uterine contraction during labor, the letdown reflex during breastfeeding, sexual arousal in men and women. It helps promote feelings of love, bonding, empathy, trust and maternal behavior. Pretty rad stuff!

  1. Why the blood/brain barrier matters: Natural oxytocin is produced in the brain and can travel throughout the body. But strangely enough if you inject oxytocin (pitocin, it’s lab-created sister) into the blood stream it cannot re-enter the brain. It is a one way street. This is because of the blood-brain barrier. We can trigger the brain to release more of it’s own oxytocin but we cannot send oxytocin to the brain. So doctors can give you IV pitocin but it will only act on organs in the body (ie: the uterus).  IV pitocin cannot provide the brain benefits of bonding & maternal behavior. As a matter of fact when pitocin is injected into the bloodstream, the brain turns down production of your natural oxytocin. 
  2. Oxytocin receptor sites are critical: Oxytocin works like a lock in a key at oxytocin receptor sites on certain organs. In the first and second trimesters you do not have very many oxytocin receptor sites on your uterus. That is a safety mechanism to keep you from going into labor since oxytocin makes the uterus contract. As you approach birth, the number of receptor sites increases dramatically. This is one reason why induction with pitocin before 40 weeks sometimes fails because there are not enough available receptor sites on the uterus to make it contract. 
  3. Oxytocin protects your baby’s brain in labor: Your natural oxytocin cross the placenta during labor and reaches your baby’s brain. This silences the fetal brain during birth and makes it less vulnerable to damage from oxygen deprivation.
  4. Birth is the biggest oxytocin high ever: The highest concentration of oxytocin in the brain and body occurs in the 15 minutes surrounding the birth of your baby. This facilitates the bonding of mother and child… a hormonal imprinting you might say. Oxytocin also relieves pain and increases wound healing.You pass oxytocin to your baby through your breastmilk. These effects are muted when you receive artificial oxytocin (pitocin) via IV both during birth and even 48 hours afterwards. 
  5. Oxytocin is easy to make: It’s not called the cuddle hormone for nothing! Get your oxytocin flowing naturally.
    • Loving touch from your partner can help. Particularly light massage. 
    • Sexual arousal increases oxytocin release. Yes, that means sex, nipple stimulation and particularly orgasm.
    • Oxytocin peaks naturally about 5 hours after falling asleep. It is highly influenced by your normal circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycles). So creating a safe, sleep-like environment could possibly promote oxytocin. Aim for a dark, warm and comfortable environment. 
    • Have a good cry. Did you know oxytocin is one of the hormones that regulates emotional crying? If you are feeling stressed, let yourself have a nice long cry and you can give yourself an oxytocin boost.
    • Pick your own triggers. Can you think of something that makes you feel cozy, loved, emotional or peaceful? It could be a smell, taste, object, person or place. Those things can by oxytocin triggers for you!