Valentine’s day. A time for romantic love. Just the two of you, together, with soft music on in the background, candle light, and a meal for two. It’s not a coincidence that Valentine’s day is associated with candle light, food, and calmness. Romance, and all that lovey dove-iness is mediated by the love hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin is released when we kiss, cuddle, look into each other’s eyes, and even when we eat food together. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone, it facilitates a sense of calm, peace, wellbeing, interconnectedness, love, trust and mutual dependence. For more about this, see Kerstin Uvnas Moberg’s wonderfully easy to read and fascinating book, The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing. Until very recently, the human race could not exist without oxytocin, because it is totally impossible to birth a baby and breastfeed without oxytocin. No mammal on this planet can have a baby without the help of oxytocin, unless she has a planned caesarean section. Nowadays, Caesarean sections are a pretty common way to have a baby. Each time a women has a caesarean section, her body has “skipped” the biological act of releasing abundant amounts of natural oxytocin into her brain and body. The baby has missed it too. Each time a women is given a drip of Syntocinon (the synthetic version of oxytocin) to induce or speed up her labour, her body is denied the chance to release abundant amounts of oxytocin into her system. And the baby misses it too. Each time a woman is given a Syntometrine injection to “help” the placenta out, her body’s natural release of oxytocin is interrupted. The question is, what are the long term effects (or even, short term effects) of this dramatic, swift, and very recent biological change in the human race?
Nature didn’t overlook the fact that it is very important for a new mother to fall in love quite quickly with her baby, so birth and love become intertwined at birth, via oxytocin. Maybe nature also takes into account, that if we flood a new-born baby’s body and brain with oxytocin, that baby becomes endowed with the building blocks to live a life of peace, calm, safeness, trust, interdependence, love and bonding. Maybe, if we interfere with nature’s way, and deny the baby this flow of oxytocin into the brain and body, we increase the cases of aggression, anxiety, autism, isolation (depression) and self harm (suicide) in our population. Given the alarming increase in rates of mental health problems in childhood and rates of autism, this is an important question to answer. A second issue is this: maybe, if we keep interfering with women’s natural release of oxytocin, then women will literally lose the genetic ability to release it naturally, quickly and easily, every time they go into labour or breastfeed. Michel Odent, an eminent obstetrician and natural birth guru, believes we are seeing the effects of this already, by the fact that labours seem to be longer and more problematic now that they were fifty years ago. With regards the effects of oxytocin on the baby, he has a whole online library of correlational evidence demonstrating a relationship between the behavioural problems outlined above, and the manner in which a child was born. But no one is asking, except for him. Somehow, the medical community just plows on, (lining drug companies pockets), by giving women syntocin or syntometrine or an epidural (which also interrupts her natural hormones) or a caesarean section without pausing to seriously question the long term consequences. Last year, I heard a midwife try to persuade a mum to have syntocinon to speed up labour. She said “it’s nothing to worry about, it’s just like a little bit of lucozade to re-energise you”. I disagree. We need to stop handing out these drugs as though they were sweets. They are costing the NHS a fortune at the point of delivery (excuse the pun), and I dread to think what they are costing the NHS in the long run.
So, if you are planning a natural birth this Valentine season, don’t be dissuaded by people who think you are better off with an epidural or a caesarean section. Keep the love flowing; plan a natural birth.
Addendum: I would just like to say, that this blog is based on theory and statistics, and that means that research which shows a correlation between two things, does not mean these things apply to you, as an individual. For example, research might show that “short people have more fun”. But this is a huge generalisation, it does not mean that if you are tall, you won’t have fun, and it does not mean that if you are short, you will have fun. It just means that out of a LOT of people, on AVERAGE, some had more fun. If you birthed without natural oxytocin, this does not tell us anything about your baby, your bonding and your child’s mental health. Oxytocin is not just released via birth, it is released through skin to skin contact, holding, massaging, eye contact, and lots more. If you did not have a natural birth, you will have bonded via other love producing means. Humans and babies are very flexible and adaptable indeed.