1. Oxytocin is an ancient substance
Oxytocin is a hormone that has “been present in the chain of animal development for millions of years… The fact that oxytocin has existed for such a long time… indicates that the substance is of fundamental importance and performs vital functions” (Dr Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg)
2. Oxytocin is found in all mammals
This amazing hormone is produced in all mammals in exactly the same chemical composition. We can imply from this that it has the same affects whether you’re a human, giraffe or rabbit.
3. Males and females both produce oxytocin
You will see as you read on, oxytocin has many different effects. From an evolutionary point of view it’s not surprising that males and females both produce this amazing hormone
4. Oxytocin is the hormone of love
Oxytocin is stimulated under many circumstances related to love as you shall read on. Love isn’t just about two partners but also the love you have for family and friends. Hugging and holding hands is common among most close relationships and many animals can be seen grooming each other. It’s not surprising then that the activities normal for early romantic relationships increase the amount of oxytocin (e.g. hand holding, looking into each other’s eyes, candlelit meals etc).
5. Oxytocin is the hormone of calm and bonding
Hanging out with friends, stroking your pet dog, cuddling up on the sofa with your partner… all of these things produce feelings of calm and bonding and increases the release of oxytocin. Sexual intercourse, certainly among (female) humans creates a bond between the two people. Sometimes, as a result of having sex early in a relationship, a feeling of bonding can occur before the couple really know each other. Oxytocin is responsible for this.
6. Oxytocin helps digestion
There are oxytocin receptors in your digestive tract. You know after a big meal you feel sleeping and happy? Well, that’s oxytocin working to keep you relaxed so your body can absorb more nutrition. It stimulates gastric juices and digestive hormones. It’s important to take time out to eat your meals without rushing around. Oxytocin production increases from the start of pregnancy and helps a mother absorb enough nutrition for her and baby. Some pregnant women put extra weight on even when they’re eating really healthily. That’s because oxytocin is helping them store food for birth and the months of breastfeeding. It’s also really common for newly wed’s to put on extra weight. Hunger will block oxytocin.
7. Oxytocin is released during sex
Males and females both produce oxytocin during sex. At it’s peak, oxytocin creates orgasm and the release of semen from the guy and helps with contracting the vagina and uterus in the woman to help the sperm swim towards the egg.
8. Oxytocin stimulates contractions in childbirth
It’s not quite clear what initially starts labour but it is certainly well documented that labour contractions are stimulated by high levels of oxytocin. Labour progresses as oxytocin increases and as oxytocin increases the contractions get stronger. Dr Michel Odent famously calls birth and the first hour of life ‘the first peak experience of love’.
9. Oxytocin is a shy hormone
Oxytocin is released when we feel safe and unobserved. We all know how uncomfortable it is when we’re being watched even if we don’t know by whom. It’s a primitive survival mechanism and most animals will walk away if you stare at them. We need to be alert in times of perceived danger and being watched is one of those times. During childbirth it’s very important to feel unobserved and safe to help oxytocin increase and labour to carry on smoothly, hence why many mammals will seek a hidden, small space.
10. Oxytocin is released during massage
Mammals have oxytocin receptors in their skin so stroking and massage is a great way to stimulate this amazing hormone. Experiments have shown that adults and children both benefit from massage creating calmer, less aggressive, healthier and socially mature individuals. It’s also been found that it’s easier to solve math problems quickly and correctly following a massage! Pregnancy massage is an ideal way to nurture a new mother and her unborn baby. Find out more benefits here >>
11. Oxytocin is blocked by the release of stress hormones
I call this The Lion Effect™. You cannot be calm and stressed at the same time. It would be a sad situation if you were really chilled out and relaxed and couldn’t be bothered to run away from a lion! Stress hormones over ride oxytocin to keep you safe. Different things stimulate stress hormones; being watched; hunger; feeling cold; bright lights. Questions and intellectual conversation stimulate the thinking part of the brain which also inhibits oxytocin.
12. Oxytocin makes us feel tired
Ever been to the beach for a day and relaxed in the sand, feeling warm and listening to the sound of the waves? On the way home you feel exhausted and very sleepy? That’s oxytocin! Oxytocin increases at the end of pregnancy, builds rapidly during labour and peeks at birth, then carries on being produced in high levels throughout the first three months of motherhood. Women often report feeling really tired. That’s oxytocin! Feeling safe and promoting relaxation during these times will help you to conserve your energy, increase bonding and love with your baby, reduce anxieties and absorb more nutrition.
13. A similar hormone is found in birds and reptiles
“Birds and reptiles produce a similar substance, mesotocin, that corresponds with the ancient hormone oxytocin, and even the earthworm has its oxytocin to stimulate egg laying” (Dr Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg)
14. Oxytocin is released when we look into someone’s eyes
Any lover or mother can tell you how amazing, bonding and calming it is to look into the eyes of their partner or new baby. Prolonged eye contact with someone you feel comfortable with produces a rush of happiness and calmness. Eye contact in groups can also help people to feel included and participate more.
15. Breathing slowly helps release oxytocin
The chemical makeup of oxytocin includes 12 oxygen molecules. The chemical makeup of adrenalin on the other hand, includes just three molecules. This is one of the reasons why breathing slowly and deeply helps us to calm down and relax.
16. The highest peak of oxytocin is found in females immediately after birth
In an undisturbed (non-medicated and spontaneous) birth, the mother’s oxytocin levels sky rocket! Holding her baby in her arms, looking into each other’s eyes and skin-to-skin, stimulates a massive release of oxytocin. With the mixture of oxytocin, endorphins and the hormone prolactin, the effect on the mother is a huge amount of love, dependancy and mothering behaviour directed straight at her baby. Interestingly the baby also releases high amounts of oxytocin and endorphins… the two become equally dependant and loving towards each other.
17. High levels of oxytocin is released during breastfeeding
Oxytocin levels are highest during the postnatal period when the mother has had a non-medicated, spontaneous birth. Oxytocin and the hormone prolactin work together to stimulate milk production. When a mother is feeling stressed, unsafe or anxious her milk supply will drop.
18. Oxytocin effects blood pressure
Depending on the situation, oxytocin can either raise your blood pressure or lower it. A small amount of oxytocin increases blood pressure briefly and then it drops lower than the starting rate. Higher levels of oxytocin keeps the blood pressure low for a longer period. Oestrogen reinforces the influence of oxytocin and so females (who still produce oestrogen) will have their blood pressure lower for three weeks. Males (and females not producing oestrogen) will have their blood pressure lower for just half that time, unless they are given a double dose of oxytocin and then they will have the same three week effect.
19. Oxytocin balances body temperature
Another interesting fact about oxytocin; it helps regulate body temperature by redistributing heat from one place in the body to another. During breastfeeding the blood vessels around the breast are dilated by oxytocin so that the baby can keep warm while they feed. Interestingly, this also happens in fathers when they hold their babies. During sexual activity, torsos get hot and cheeks get rosy… that’s oxytocin!
20. Oxytocin helps to heal wounds
More interesting facts about oxytocin… “Oxytocin stimulates growth, not only by promoting the development of the animal as a whole but also by accelerating the healing of wounds. Oxytocin injections make sores on a rat’s back heal more quickly than they would otherwise. They also heal and rejuvenate mucous membranes, and produce anti-inflammatory reactions” (Dr Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg) How wonderful for the body to provide such an amazing natural healer straight after birth.
21. Oxytocin increases the pain threshold
When there are high levels of oxytocin in the body the reaction to pain diminishes. By feeling safe, calm and relaxed, oxytocin makes an animal (or human) slower to respond to pain. This is important as feeling safe, warm, breathing well and well nourished during childbirth helps to lessen the experience of pain. It’s not that the pain has gone necessarily, it’s just that it takes on less importance in the body. The natural production of oxytocin also seems to stimulate endorphins, the body’s amazing pain relieving hormone (it’s even much stronger than morphine).
22. Oxytocin promotes maternal behaviour
As well as creating calm, bonding, love and healing, oxytocin stimulates the hormone prolactin straight after birth. On a physical level prolactin is responsible for the production of breastmilk and on a behavioural/emotional level it produces mothering instincts and behaviours.
23. Oxytocin is released into both the blood and nervous system
Unlike most other hormones, oxytocin stimulates its own production. Oxytocin receptors around the body, when activated, stimulate the cells to produce more oxytocin. Oxytocin is released into both the blood and nervous system and it is thought that this helps the feedback loop.
24. Synthetic oxytocin during labour inhibits the natural production of oxytocin
When synthetic oxytocin is injected into the blood stream during labour, the feedback mechanism is broken and the body stops producing its own supply. Synthetic oxytocin increases uterine contractions but does not produce the same emotional/behavioural effects. Synthetic oxytocin is also harder to control. Natural oxytocin releases in bursts with rests in between. Synthetic oxytocin is released into the blood stream as a constant flow and it’s effects last much longer than the natural hormone, sometimes producing stronger and longer contractions and putting the baby at risk of distress and oxygen deprivation.
25. Oxytocin increases trust
Research shows when oxytocin is present, levels of trust increase. “It is as important for survival to be able to be close to someone as it is to be able to defend yourself against someone… One interesting experiment studied the check-out process in a library and found that borrowers who had been lightly touched by the librarian returned their books at a much higher rate than those who had not been touched… a person who is touched is more likely to honour a promise.” (Dr Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg)
26. Oxytocin affects our memory and learning
“We need calm and connection not only to avoid illness, but also to enjoy life, to feel curious, optimistic, creative. These qualities are hard to measure scientifically. What research does show, however, is that concentration and learning are improved by a peaceful environment and nurturing relationships. Children under stress have a harder time learning than those who are calm and secure.” (Dr Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg) Oxytocin also helps us to remember faces when in a positive situation.
27. Oxytocin is contagious
When a person feels relaxed and calm they positively affect the people around them; oxytocin is stimulated in others close by. “Administering oxytocin to an individual rat produces certain effects, such as elevated pain threshold. But surprisingly, to a lesser degree, animals that live in the same cage but have not directly received oxytocin also show the same changes. The other animals in the cage become calmer and have lower levels of stress hormones, just as the rats who actually received oxytocin did.” (Dr Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg) It’s important that anyone in the same room as a female in labour or breastfeeding stays calm and relaxed since stress hormones have the same effect in reverse (create stress and fear in those near by).
28. Oxytocin helps with fertility
Oxytocin is found in the production and release of sperm from the testicles and the release of eggs from the ovaries. From the very start of life, oxytocin is present. Love really is what makes the world go round. Reducing stress and promoting relaxation helps women get pregnant.
29. A mother’s oxytocin is shared with her unborn baby
A mother’s oxytocin crosses the placenta and stimulates a hormonal reaction in the unborn baby to quieten their brain ready for delivery. Baby also produces high levels of oxytocin and endorphins during birth keeping them calm and ready to copy with the naturally reduced oxygen supply during contractions.
Samantha Thurlby-Brooks is the creator and director of Mumanu Ltd; specialising in pregnancy massage, postnatal massage and BirthWorks antenatal classes in London, UK. Samantha supports her clients with kindness, understanding, knowledge and a damn good rub! She is also the creator of the award winning Mumanu Pregnancy Pillow
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