By Carrie Vittitoe
The heart palpitations a new mother feels when falling in love with her newborn baby rest a great deal on hormones. Beth Quinkert, a certified nurse midwife with WomanCare in Southern Indiana, says there are four hormone systems involved during labor and childbirth: prolactin, oxytocin, endorphins, and adrenaline/noradrenaline.
“Prolactin is the ‘mothering’ hormone thought to be responsible for the nesting instinct. Oxytocin, known as the hormone of love, is responsible for making the uterus contract, producing labor, and is at its highest levels at the time of birth, which gives the woman a sense of euphoria and makes her receptive to her baby,” Beth says.
Adrenaline is the hormone associated with “fight or flight” and may kick in when a pregnant woman feels scared or threatened to keep delivery from occurring. Beth says this hormone is involved when women begin labor at home where they feel safe and contractions are steady, but then move to the hospital. Things like registration, intravenous needles, or being in uncomfortable positions may make them feel scared, resulting in higher “fight or flight” hormones and a slowing of their contractions. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are “also at work when the job of pushing the baby out comes around. These hormones will kick in and give the woman the ‘urge to push’ feelings,” she says. Endorphins are hormonal painkillers, and Beth says they soar after birth, which is what causes many women to cry with joy immediately after they give birth.
While hormones are designed to make birth go a certain way, not every woman experiences a seamless labor or delivery. “Labor can be faster or slower than expected, analgesia in the form of IV medications or epidurals may be required, induction or augmentation with pitocin might occur, [or] fetal distress requiring additional monitoring or cesarean section may become necessary,” Beth says. These things could impact how a woman feels about the birth or her baby, so it is important for women to do things that can increase their hormones of love and euphoria, like breastfeeding, placing the baby skin-to-skin, and discussing her feelings.
Photo by Carlo Nevarro on Unsplash