Your hormones during pregnancy, labour, and birth
When you first become pregnant, progesterone and estrogen, hormones that are a part of your normal menstrual cycle, rise dramatically, and a new hormone, one that’s special to pregnancy, called human chorionic gonadotropin, begins to be produced.
Here is a little run-down of your hormones:
Human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, is known as the pregnancy hormone because it’s generally only produced during pregnancy. Home pregnancy tests give you that positive stripe when they detect this hormone in your urine.
When you’re pregnant, your levels of hCG will rise rapidly, doubling every few days before reaching their peak in the first eight to 11 weeks. This hormone is important because high levels of it indicate that the placenta is being created.
Progesterone is important to get pregnant in the first place as it prepares your uterus lining for the egg to implant and it acts as a muscle relaxant, preventing your uterus from contracting until the onset of labour.
Estrogen helps to regulate that progesterone while also maintaining the endometrial lining that is vital for the baby’s development. Estrogen is believed to promote an increase in blood flow, which is important for nourishing the baby, but that extra blood flow has the side-effect of making your breasts achy and tender.
Endorphins – The hormone of pleasure. They are said to be 20-40 times more powerful than morphine. They’re a type of neurotransmitter they act on opiate receptors to alleviate pain and promote feelings of pleasure. As labour progresses and pain intensifies, endorphin levels steadily increase in unmedicated labours.You can enhance your body’s production of endorphins during labour and birth by staying calm, comfortable and confident, avoiding disturbances, such as unwelcome people or noise and uncomfortable procedures and delaying or avoiding epidural or opioids for pain relief.
Oxytocin – The hormone of love. There are three times in birth when we have a big release, at the start of labour, when the baby is born, and breastfeeding. You release this hormone when you feel loved and nurtured. You can promote your body’s production of oxytocin during labour and birth by staying calm, comfortable and confident, Avoiding disturbances, such as unwelcome people or noise and uncomfortable procedures, staying upright and using gravity so your baby is pressed against your cervix and then, as the baby is born, against the tissues of your pelvic floor, and stimulating your nipples or clitoris before birth, and giving your baby a chance to suckle (breastfeed) shortly after birth.
Melatonin – The dark hormone. It works with oxytocin for uterine surges. This is why it is important to keep our birthing environment dimly lit when possible.
Adrenaline/ noradrenaline – The hormone of excitement. You are designed to release this hormone at the end of your birthing. It gives mum and baby that extra ‘oomph’ for that final part of the birth. You can keep adrenaline down during labour and birth by staying calm, comfortable and relaxed, being informed and prepared, having trust and confidence in your body and your capabilities as a woman, having trust and confidence in your care providers, being in a calm, peaceful and private environment and avoiding conflict. Be with people who can provide comfort measures, good information, positive words and other support and avoid intrusive, painful, and disruptive procedures.
Relaxin – Relaxing and softening hormone. We release this hormone in preparation for childbirth. It relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and softens and widens the cervix.
Prolactin – The mothering hormone. Prolactin is the major hormone of breast milk synthesis and breastfeeding. You can likely promote your body’s production of prolactin by waiting for labour to start on its own, minimising stress during labour and after birth, keeping mum and baby together after birth, and breastfeeding early and thereafter on cue from the baby.
How to maximise your body’s ability to natural processes these hormones?
To maximise your body’s ability to follow its natural processes, it’s a good to make sure you create a calm and safe birth environment, get educated about birth through the Hypnobirthing Australia Positive Birth Program, seek out the right labour support such as a Doula, make sure you’re undisturbed during your labour and birth, and enhance your body’s natural ability to release these hormones where you can.