Oxytocin is a hormone produced the pituitary gland and also a neurotransmitter. It is involved in many processes – from childbirth and breastfeeding to our social behavior and emotions.
OXYTOCIN AND CHILDBIRTH
Oxytocin causes rhythmic contractions of the uterine muscles. Its secretion increases as the cervix dilates. It’s secreted even after the expulsion of the fetus in order to move to the next stage – the birth of the placenta.
Synthetic oxytocin is used when it is necessary to induce birth or stimulate labor. To do the latter, the patient’s cervix should be 6cm dilated.
THE ROLE OF OXYTOCIN IN NURSING
When you’re breastfeeding, oxytocin is released which triggers the movement of the breast milk out and into the baby’s mouth. This is called “let-down reflex”. Interestingly, this mechanism can be triggered even at the thought of breastfeeding or hearing a baby cry.
Oxytocin released during breastfeeding has been shown to strengthen the bond between the mother and the baby. It slightly raises your body temperature so you may feel warm and thirsty while nursing. It is important to note that oxytocin can’t determine the amount of breastmilk you will produce. This function belongs to prolactin.
Breastfeeding is beneficial not only for the baby but also for the mother. Thanks to the release oxytocin, the uterus is returns to its pre-pregnancy size, there is less bleeding and recovery is faster.
EFFECTS ON EMOTIONS
It has recently been suggested that oxytocin is also an important participant in social behavior. In the brain, oxytocin acts as a neurotransmitter and is responsible for human behavior, including sexual arousal, trust in others, anxiety and, of course, maternal instincts. As a result, oxytocin is called the “hormone of love”.
Many research projects have been undertaken addressing the role of oxytocin in addiction, anorexia and stress, among other topics.