Updated: Apr 25, 2020
There are many things that we need and many things that we don’t; however, the most important thing we need is oxytocin (if you would like to read about the material things you may need postpartum the related blog article "What does baby need?" may help). The hormone oxytocin is commonly referred to as the hormone of love and assists us in many ways from social bonding, sexual reproduction, childbirth, breastmilk production, healing (particularly after childbirth) and so much more. This is something that occurs naturally within the human body and can increase or decrease depending on a range of internal and external factors.
After childbirth and through the first year of parenthood it is so incredibly important to do things that promote the production of oxytocin and this is because Oxytocin promotes feelings of:
relaxation and contentment
Furthermore, increased oxytocin assists with:
faster healing after birth
improvement with digestion
confidence in expressing yourself emotionally (be it tears or laughter)
fear and anxiety reduction
pain and tension reduction
If the oxytocin lowers the following issues are believed to start appearing:
decrease in breastmilk supply
increase in tension
increase in stress
increase in fears and anxiety
slower healing process
digestive difficulties may occur
appetite may become impacted
difficulty expressing yourself emotionally
As you can see supporting adequate production of oxytocin hormone is far more important than most things that could be purchased within a store. Although we do have an article related to what you may need within the first year of life here should you wish to read about that. However, this article will outline the importance of the hormone oxytocin after birth and how you can foster that.
The first thing to do is become aware of the things that can lower your oxytocin so that you can put measures in play to help reduce the impact of those oxytocin lowering things in your life and of course becoming aware of the things that help increase your oxytocin levels.
STRESSES AND HAVING TOO MUCH TO THINK ABOUT OR TOO MUCH ON YOUR PLATE
Often a lot of stress or having too much on your plate can hinder the production of oxytocin; therefore, hindering your entire postpartum experience both psychologically and physiologically. Rigid routines or schedules that are in-flexible may create unwanted/unneeded stress and difficulties postpartum, routines and schedules can be beneficial for many; however, it is important to ensure that flexibility is allowed for the unexpected and/or for bubs own individual rhythm. A baby’s individual rhythm may take some time to develop or become apparent, patience, nurture and flexibility are incredibly important during that timeframe. Furthermore, having too many places to go, things to do (including but not limited to house work), and doing tasks that you may find bring you little to no enjoyment such as diligently recording every little wee, poo, or feed your baby has can also create disconnect and difficulties. For this reason, it can be useful to learn to delegate as many tasks as you can to other people such as friends, family, your partner, or even consider hiring a Doula to help carry out many of these tasks which will often help to reduce the impact of unnecessary tasks on your oxytocin levels postpartum. The exception to this is where you find joy and/or feelings of relaxation from those tasks. If you find you experience joy or relaxing feeling from any task it may be that the task/s do the opposite for you and increase your oxytocin rather than decrease the oxytocin. In those situations, go for gold as these things have a good chance of producing more benefits for you postpartum rather than potential unwanted or undesired pitfalls. - Related Article "Stress and the Family Unit"
FEELING HUNGRY & LACKING SLEEP
When you skip meals or snacks because you are too busy or exhausted to eat these results no only in a depletion of your energy reserves, it can also result in the reduction of oxytocin produced by your body. As mentioned above when oxytocin is low you may become more likely to experience difficulties postpartum, both physiologically and psychologically. To avoid this you could:
Create jars of dried meals to make it easy to cook fresh
Freeze meals before the birth (frozen meals generally go against ayurvedic principals; however, if you are not following Ayurveda and want to ensure you have food in a pinch prepare meals before the birth to freeze for postpartum meals) to eat postpartum
Have plenty of seeds, nuts, and fresh fruits handy to snack on postpartum
Create a meal registry for friends/family that way they can offer to bring a meal or meals
Arrange home delivery of foods (ideally lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, and/or nuts)
Have someone watch bub and other children while you sleep
Snuggle with bub on a bed or near you and have a nap (ensure you are following safe sleeping guidelines for any sleep location including bedsharing if that is what you choose)
Take naps while baby is sleeping when/where you can *delegate, delegate, delegate
Employ a Doula – seriously many Doulas including myself will generally cook, clean, care for children, allow you to sleep and do whatever tasks you need done to help you 😊
It is believed that you can become more sensitive to the cold after you birth a baby and that feeling cold may lower the oxytocin levels; for this reason, it is good to do things to help keep yourself warm.
Snuggle into blankets
Wear snuggley warm clothes
Enjoy steamed up warm rooms
Drink warm teas, milks and soups
Eat warm meals
FORGETTING WHO KNOWS YOUR BABY BEST
We live in a society where everyone has something to say there are many well-meaning people, we have access to so many resources and even able to locate many experts on topics to seek out information. However, it can sometimes backfire and we lose the ability to trust in ourselves, forgetting who it really is that knows their baby best? Is it a well-meaning stranger, is it an article writer, is it your Doula, is it your partner, your family member, your friend, or a professional/expert in the field – or maybe is it information from a book, website, brochure, class, podcast, or YouTube video that know your baby best and how best to care for it and your family (yourself included)? NO! The best resource that you could ever possibly obtain during your journey is yourself! It is YOU who knows your baby best, it is YOU who knows your family best and YOU that knows yourself best. Because of this it is you that is currently and will be the expert when it comes to yourself, your baby and your family – nobody else. That is not to say that guidance or information from any other source be that a stranger, friends, family, books, articles, websites, podcasts, your Doula, a class, mothers circle or a professional cannot be useful. Instead it is simply a reminder that you are and always will be the expert in your own family (this includes yourself and your baby) and to trust your own insights – take what you need and want from information or guidance provided by others and discard what you feel will not serve you. Make the choices that you feel work best for YOU!
THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN ISOLATION & BOUNDARIES
After you have had a baby your body needs to recover both physically and psychologically. There will also be lots of wonderful hormones that will often make things feel like things have really hit home. So many people will want to meet baby, it’s only natural to be excited and look forward to meeting baby, you may even be excited to introduce the baby; however, it is important to care for yourself and place your initial focus on those friends and family members who want to care for you too. By this I mean create yourself a circle of people who love you and you love that would want to come over bringing a plate of food or hands that are willing to chip in to help during their visit instead of those who simply want to come see the baby with expectations to hold and possibly even outstay their welcome. Try to reduce visitors who are likely to phone all of the time (unless you enjoy that- generally postpartum you will feel exhausted, are trying to establish feeds, routines, settle baby, and get some sleep yourself so many don’t enjoy constant phone calls), overstay welcomes when they visit leaving you exhausted and sometimes baby unsettled, and those who expect you to play host. Remember when you are not feeling up for visitors you CAN say No! The word NO is a full sentence. Of course, if you want to be gentler about it you can simply say “We would love you to see the baby; however, we are really needing a couple of days/weeks to recover and bond as a family. When we feel able to accept visitors, we will be keeping the duration short (insert maximum hours you want a visitor to stay for) so that baby and Mumma can get their much-needed rest. We will get in touch as soon as we are recovered enough for visitors but look forward to seeing you then”. Visitors that overstay welcomes and/or place expectations on new family units can create undue stress which in turn lowers the oxytocin. Conversely, short visits from loved ones who pitch in with whatever is needed during their visit and/or bring some food for you when they visit can help increase the oxytocin. It is also important to ensure you don’t socially isolate yourself, as doing this can also lower your oxytocin levels negatively impacting on your postpartum experience. So remember visitors at your own time, in your own way and with whatever BOUNDARIES you find will help you through.
TRAUMA, TRAUMA, TRAUMA
The effects of trauma can rear their lovely heads at any time, this is particularly true for both parents during childbirth and during postpartum. In addition to the negative effects on oxytocin levels trauma can result in flashbacks, increased stress levels, feeling like you have lost your identity, loss of trust in yourself and/or others, relationship issues, sleep problems, breastfeeding issues, health problems, brain alterations, and sometimes sadly suicide. In fact, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychology by Oates in 2003 suicide was found to be the leading cause of maternal deaths in the developed world and unfortunately based on the findings of several other studies suicide is a significant risk of trauma. Thankfully, there are many therapies and treatments available to support those experiencing the effects of trauma be it birth trauma or trauma resulting from another experience.. Doing things that help induce oxytocin production within the body can often also assist with the healing process (please remember though that it is incredibly important to seek out a medical professional if you are experiencing the effects of trauma and get the appropriate support), things that may induce oxytocin production are:
Smelling bubs head
Smelling salty beach air and walking along the sand
Smelling foods that you enjoy and/or foods that hold joyful memories
Eatting foods that you enjoy and/or foods that hold joyful memories
Being held lovingly by a loved one
Snuggling with your baby
Patting your pet or an animal
Playing games that make you happy and/or that make you laugh
Watching TV shows that make you laugh
Listening to Podcasts or Audiobooks that make you laugh
Reading Stories that make you laugh
Watching our loved ones & spending time with them
Watching a favorite movie or reading a favorite book
Doing things we enjoy
Having a warm bath
Enjoying a massage
Doing Yoga or Meditation
Painting or Drawing
It is important to schedule in at least 1 thing that brings you joy (no matter how little, big, or silly you may think it is) into your week. It could be something as simple as having a bath or snuggling with baby in bed. Doing this helps to promote oxytocin production which helps your overall postpartum experience, and if you have trauma or other postpartum mental health concerns the oxytocin production may also help support you through these too (alongside professional help you obtain).
ARTICLE DISCLAIMER: Lee is a Canberra Doula who also spent over 5 years working in the childcare field as a childcare educator (including as a Room Leader); she holds relevant children's services qualifications alongside Doula qualifications. In addition, Lee holds a wide range of qualifications and training in fields that include but are not limited to trauma and natural therapies. Lee is a proud Aspie woman and mother of 5 children (2 with disabilities). If you have concerns about your child's development, family member's well-being or your own well-being speak to your Midwife or Doctor. Furthermore, a small commission is made on some of the links provided within these blog articles