What role do hormones play during labour?

Whats important about birth hormones?

When a woman is giving birth, all the activities within her body are dictated by the secretion of hormones. As Ina May Gaskin points out, there is an intricate and exquisitely balanced combination of hormones necessary to trigger all functions of labour and birth3.

During this time the body releases a complex cocktail of hormones which are vital in order for the “normal” process of birth to be allowed to flow unhindered. These hormones are made in the deepest, most primitive part of our brain and are the same as those secreted by other mammals. Understanding the roles of these hormones and their importance will help you to work with your body more effectively.

When all the birthing hormones are present, the body will go through every detailed stage of labour with no interference or need for anything outside her body, i.e. medical support or intervention.

It is therefore sad and quite worrying that, in modern society, women all over the world are regularly giving birth without the natural secretion of birthing hormones. Instead they are being pumped full of chemical, synthesised hormones to “force” the body to go through the birthing process. These artificial hormones (often made from animal products including horse and pig semen!) create similar physical functions in the body, causing the longitudinal muscles of the uterus to contract and pull up. However, they cannot cross into the brain and so do not trigger the pituitary gland to secrete the additional cocktail of beneficial hormones which enable the body and mind to work with the contractions.

Michel Odent asks the question – what will happen to the genetic make-up of the female birthing woman if many generations go by without her using, stimulating and producing the vitally important cocktail of hormones?4

Not only do the hormones create the physical functions of birth – that is, the movement of muscles, the relaxing of ligaments, the expanding of the birth canal, and so on – they also have an enormous impact on the emotional and mental state of the mother, especially where bonding and love are concerned.