As a childbirth educator and labor doula trainer, one of my favorite topics is that of birthing hormones. Oxytocin, melatonin, endorphins, adrenaline and prolactin all work in synchronicity to help the birth process move forward. More specifically, melatonin acts as a catalyst to enhance the amount of natural oxytocin released. This in turn, causes the uterine contractions to strengthen and become more frequent which results in cervical dilation and effacement. This knowledge is often met with great surprise, since we tend to identify melatonin as a sleep inducer or a supplement we can take to get over “jet lag”. It does seems ironic that nature’s sleep hormone, can positively affect a very “wide awake” event, like giving birth.
In birth classes, I emphasize how melatonin is supportive to the childbirth experience and how to the contrary, adrenaline and stress can slow and stall a birth’s progression. We talk about how animals give birth in the wild and on instinct, seek a place that is perceived as safe and hidden from view of potential predators. We discuss the response that the animal would have, if a predator suddenly approached and then, how the animal’s adrenaline would surge, causing labor to cease, to ultimately protect her young. We consider how our own human instincts, when adhered, also drive us to want a calm, safe and private place to experience childbirth.
To keep labor flowing forward, it becomes evident that keeping the environment peaceful and comfortable contributes to higher melatonin levels. It is suggested, light-heartedly, that human laboring women, don’t have to worry about predatory animals being in pursuit, but how common it is, to have a slight uptick of stress hormones, when leaving the familiarity of home and making way to the new environment of the hospital.
It is important to note how synthetic versions of these birthing hormones do not equal the same results. as do natural oxytocin and endorphins. As quite often used in modern maternity care, the synthetic versions of oxytocin (pitocin) and endorphins (narcotics) do not work harmoniously together to bring about a labor that moves forward and supports the birthing women to manage her intensifying contractions. In fact, the synthetic varieties often are accompanied by unpleasant side effects.
These 5 key natural hormones have influence over birth’s momentum. Melatonin, oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline and prolactin all synergistically work together to support and promote labor’s culmination in birth. We come to the conclusion that the body’s natural hormones were designed to elevate a woman’s ability to cope through the most challenging parts of birth. When labor gets most intense with frequent, strong contractions, moms can benefit from the endorphin release that gives her needed relief.
I challenge birth partners with the task of helping boost a mom’s melatonin levels and help keeping them strong so that oxytocin release is progressive which can facilitate a more efficient birth. The birth partners’ primary responsibility, is to create, a “nest” of comfort and safety around mom, both at home in early labor and more importantly, in the hospital during active labor, transition and pushing. We talk about helping raise a mom’s melatonin levels by dimming the lights, bringing in calming and familiar sounds and music, bringing a favorite fragrance that might be used to create memories of relaxing day at the spa, bringing her favorite hydrating beverage and a soothing massage lotion or oil to enhance calming touch. These items create a virtual 5 sensory experience to improve release of effective melatonin for a laboring woman. Furthermore, birthing partners need to consider themselves as an anchor to mom’s emotional and physical security. Birth partners and doulas love learning about birthing hormones and how they can do something tangible to support the birthing woman with a potentially more efficient birth, while also, facilitating a more calm comfort during childbirth.
Melatonin synergizes with oxytocin to enhance contractility of human myometrial smooth muscle cells.
Conclusion: MEL synergizes with OT to promote myometrial cell contractions and to facilitate gap junction activity in vitro. Such a synergy in vivo would promote coordinated and forceful contractions of the late term pregnant uterus necessary for parturition.
Sharkey JT1, Puttaramu R, Word RA, Olcese J. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19001515
CCCE, CLE, CPD, CLD, CAPPA Faculty
I became a labor doula back in 1999 after meeting Tracy Wilson Peters for coffee one day after picking up her business card in a baby gift shop. Having now taught over 500 couples in group and private settings, I am energized each time I meet a couple seeking a low intervention birthing experience. A year ago, I was approached by Tracy to take over for her in conducting Atlanta area Labor Doula & Childbirth Educator Trainings. I happily accepted the opportunity and have thoroughly enjoyed training enthusiastic new birth professionals. I am honored to act as mentor and teacher to women ready to embrace their calling as birth doulas and childbirth educators.