Hormonal physiology describes the healthy functioning of our hormonal systems. My new report Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing gives a lot of detail about these processes in pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum, including the impacts of common maternity-care interventions on these systems.
I want to take some time to highlight some of the findings that are relevant to mothers and babies- and those who care for them.
Our childbearing hormones are critical to actually making labour and birth happen! In addition, our hormone systems prepare us in the final weeks and days – and likely hours– for an efficient labour and birth, help with labour pain and stress, ensure a safe passage for our babies and, after it is all over, give us feelings of reward and pleasure as we meet our babies for the first time.
But the benefits of physiologic childbearing – by which I mean, “childbearing conforming to healthy biologic processes”- don’t end with that after-birth glow. The hormones that make birth happen also prepare us for breastfeeding, with these preparations beginning even before labour starts. In addition, our hormonal physiology, including the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, continues to support milk production and release right through lactation. Oxytocin and prolactin are even present in breastmilk, bestowing calming, connecting effects on our babies as they suckle.
Another lesser-known finding from the report that is important for mamas and those who care for them is the importance of these hormones for bonding and attachment. In all mammals – those species that suckle their young—hormonal physiology supports and rewards the dedicated care that mammalian mamas give to their newborns. In fact, all of the hormone systems that are discussed in the report- oxytocin, beta-endorphins, norepinephrine and prolactin- are involved in maternal-infant attachment, which is a critical process to ensure the best care and safest upbringing, which helps the species to survive.
These hormonal supports are also active in human mothers. When we interact with our babies- hold, carry, touch, talk to, nurse- we are rewarded with the release of oxytocin, beta-endorphins and prolactin, which give us pleasure by activating the dopamine-related pleasure centres in our brains. The more pleasure we get from interacting, the more we want to be with our babies, which benefits their health and development.
These pleasure and reward systems may be powerfully activated in women, as in other mammals, by the birth-related peaks of oxytocin and other hormones, giving us the head-start that maximizes pleasure and dedicated infant care into the future. (See my discussion of “biologic bonding” in the report.) If we miss these peaks, we may need some extra assistance to get these systems flowing. Lots of touch, carrying, contact and nursing our babies will activate these systems, and benefit our babies as well.
To find out more, and to see the scientific research that describes these processes, please look at the whole report, which is available in full for free online here . Sections 3.1.4 , 4.1.4 and 5.1.4 describe hormonal physiology after birth and you can also search the document for any words of interest.
Wishing you all power peace and pleasure for yourselves and in your work with childbearing.