Synthetic oxytocin& the effect on mothers’ mental health

I have a bit of a love affair with oxytocin (aka the love hormone – pun intentional!). For that positive labour experience that birthing mothers are looking for it’s vital to keep her body producing good quantities of this hormone to help her birth baby as efficiently as possible. Bursts of it are produced when baby’s head presents to the cervix, stimulating the uterus to contract. It’s also needed to expel the placenta once baby has made its way earthside. And it doesn’t end there! Oxytocin is responsible for the let down during breastfeeding which rewards baby for all their hard work suckling at the nipple. Pretty cool hormone, yes?

Michel Odent, childbirth specialist amongst other things, shares my passion, and voices concern over the increasing use of synthetic oxytocin during labour – to ‘speed things up’ and routinely to deliver the placenta afterwards. One of his concerns is in relation to it inhibiting the production of natural oxytocin and the effect this has on both mother and baby. This study appears to show a correlation between a woman receiving peripartum synthetic oxytocin and being diagnosed with a depressive or anxiety disorder within the first year post-birth.

Of course, it’s early days to say there is definite causation. The type of birth a woman has can influence her mental state, as can many other factors. Nonetheless, it’s definitely interesting research and as ever, your own reading should be done around a subject to inform your choice.

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