If you’ve given birth before – and especially if you’re a breastfeeding mother – you’ve probably heard of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is the hormone that controls uterine contractions during labor and helps with milk ejection in breastfeeding.
This amazing neuropeptide is also involved in much more than these two functions.
Some fascinating oxytocin facts are that it is referred to as ‘the love hormone’ because oxytocin responses are present in all life circumstances where we experience love: falling in love, sexual arousal, giving birth and bonding with a newborn baby.
Oxytocin is calming and improves mood; it lowers blood pressure and reduces levels of stress and anxiety.
Oxytocin also plays a pivotal role in avoiding and relieving cardiac stress. It also relieves inflammation and stimulates metabolic functions, like digestion and growth.
Oxytocin released creates a positive feedback loop that produces psychological stability and improves physical and mental health. Oxytocin facts
Oxytocin is present in females and males and is active in social interactions. Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism, which means grounding and giving human behavior a purpose other than existing – in other words, thriving!
High levels of oxytocin bring about feelings of relaxation, selflessness and love. World renowned obstetrician, Michel Odent, says, ‘Whatever the facet of love we consider, oxytocin is involved’.
Oxytocin positively affects social behavior. A lack of oxytocin will most likely lead to anxiety disorders and even the appearance of depressive symptoms.
Oxytocin is the key to thriving deep into motherhood.
Synthetic oxytocin is often used to induce or augment labor; however, it does not act in the same way in the body as naturally occurring oxytocin does. Pitocin/syntocinon, as it is called, does not cross the blood-brain barrier and, although it produces the same mechanical effects on the body – that is, it can stimulate uterine contractions – it does not lead to the same behavioral effects, such as maternal attachment-promoting behaviors. When artificial oxytocin is introduced on us we’re deprived of all the loving features it has and we just get its mechanical effects.
Let’s look at some of the most amazing oxytocin facts;
Oxytocin Facts #1. Oxytocin and the pituitary gland
Oxytocin is made in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls functions (heart rate, respiration etc). It is then stored in the posterior pituitary gland, waiting to be released in pulses of love into your bloodstream. When there’s a lot of love and happiness going on, the oxytocin flow is continuous; they go together.
Oxytocin Facts #2. Posterior pituitary hormones
Apart from what is also called ‘the cuddle hormone’, the human posterior pituitary gland also releases vasopresin. This polypeptide hormone is in charge of regulating your body’s water balance.
Love and water: is there anything more important?
Oxytocin Facts #3. Oxytocin release
Oxytocin is released in pulses; the more pulses, the more the hormone’s effects are seen.
These pulses provoke uterine contractions, which are involved in orgasm and childbirth. The same mechanism appears to work in the breast during the milk ejection reflex. The baby’s suckling triggers these pulses, which improve milk production and release.
Skin to skin contact also increases oxytocin release – whether it’s mother and baby touching right after birth, dad massaging his infant or mum and dad holding hands.
Oxytocin is also released during a romantic attachment.
Oxytocin Facts #4. Oxytocin levels
Oxytocin appears whenever we experience love and at those times when we feel life is most awesome. It is there at those moments when you’re experiencing so much love it’s difficult for life to get any better.
Oxytocin levels are at its highest when you experience love, when you give birth, when you’re born, when you orgasm and every time you kiss your baby, touch her skin, or breastfeed. When these things happen, you vibrate. You’re as connected to the Earth as it’s possible to be. Your body is working physiologically as it should and the reward is pure pleasure. That’s why oxytocin is so important.
Oxytocin levels should be as high as possible. That’s how we thrive!
Oxytocin Facts #5. Oxytocin antagonist: every hero has an antihero
What stops oxytocin from flowing freely through your veins?
What stops us from continuously overflowing with love?
The answer is simple.
The antagonist of love is fear.
That means when one is present in large amounts the other is absent.
Leaving in fear or living in the future or the past instead of in the present prevent high oxytocin levels. When fear is present, oxytocin release is blocked by adrenaline and stress hormones.
Oxytocin Facts #6. Oxytocin is shy
We must feel safe for oxytocin to be released. This is why mammals often give birth when their owners are sleeping; it means they’re not disturbed and oxytocin release can happen.
For oxytocin to flow, our thinking brains must be resting. This means there’s as little external stimulus as possible. Bright lights, conversations and any rational behaviors will hinder oxytocin release.
That’s why many people achieve sexual arousal more easily when there’s little light. It’s easier to let go.
Once oxytocin is flowing in high amounts, the shyness disappears.
The behavioral effects of oxytocin are believed to be released by centrally projecting oxytocin neurons.
Oxytocin Facts #7. The oxytocin climax
Oxytocin is involved in love, sexual activity, pregnancy and sexual behavior. The highest oxytocin production and release happens at the time of birth. The role of oxytocin as a bonding hormone is crucial to induce the highest love experience that will trigger loving maternal behavior. The only adrenaline rush in the labor process happens just before birth so the hormone crosses the placental barrier and the baby is fully awake and ready to soak up all the love, especially from mama.
The secong highest release of oxytocin is during orgasm. We experience that amazing feeling thanks to the love hormone.
Oxytocin Facts #8. Oxytocin receptors
The uterus contracts all the time. During pregnancy, it’s important that the uterus doesn’t respond to contractions as it does during labor.
The mechanical function of oxytocin that makes the uterus contract needs each oxytocin receptor to be fully open to strengthen contractions. That happens just a few days before labor starts.
Oxytocin Facts #9. Oxytocin and the newborn
Prolactin, the milk-making hormone, is dependent on oxytocin for its production. The levels of these two hormones are strongly correlated during breastfeeding as they activate the brain reward system responses. The more the baby feeds, the happier everybody is.
Oxytocin helps mothers interact with their babies. It induces typical maternal behavior.
When a baby kneads at the breast, oxytocin is released. Always let your baby hug your breast during feeding rather than tucking or swaddling her hands away.
Oxytocin Facts #10. Oxytocin is forgetful
Oxytocin has several reproductive functions. Most of them are of emotional significance, as the monogamous relationship is the way most humans understand relationships at present. The oxytocin hypothesis suggests that oxytocin has an important role in keeping its own levels as high as possible; therefore, you find your actual sexual partner the most attractive of all the previous sexual partners because, if you’re going to reproduce, it will most likely be with your current partner.
High plasma oxytocin levels, like those present during birth and motherhood, make it easy to forget things. This has two functions: one is to help you focus on the present moment – raising and nurturing your baby; the second is to make it possible to think about repeating the experience. You will remember that labor was intense but you will forget exactly how intense it really was.
You might like to look at BellyBelly’s article How Does Dad Manage An Expanding Family?
Oxytocin Facts #11. Oxytocin is social
Oxytocin has direct effects on the growth of the brain, especially the neocortex of the newborn. An environment full of oxytocin modifies social interactions. Our social behaviors are developed from birth, some even during pregnancy. There can never be too much oxytocin. Lower oxytocin levels during pregnancy, however, have been associated with autism spectrum disorder, ASD and aggressive behavior.
Research suggests that these conditions could significantly improve with more oxytocin. Intranasal oxytocin has a good relationship with the oxytocin receptor gene and is producing good results for ASD.
Aside from its reproductive role, your oxytocin level rises when you share a meal with a friend, hug someone you care about and even when you pet your dog. So if you’re feeling down, spend some quality time with a good girlfriend, get your hugs from those you love and care about. Ditch the ‘quickie’ hug; give it longer than a few seconds, relax into it and see how different it feels. Or get connected with your partner…. We can leave the rest up to you!
Read more about this in Natural Oxytocin | Benefits Of The Hormone