You're pregnant, you're growing, you have a baby shower, you go into labor. And all along the way, there is this person right there beside you. He isn't experiencing any of it. He is an outsider. He'll never know morning sickness, or what the babies’ kicks feel like. He won't have his own party where everyone dotes on him, gives him advice, and vows to be there to support him. He isn't going to go into labor and experienceing the rite of passage that every mother goes through to become a parent.
He’ll never truly understand.
However, your partner will probably be one of the most important people in your life during this time and the most important person while you labor and birth your children.
And if he is, he’ll have some influence over something equally important to your labor. Your oxytocin.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is your love hormone. It is released when you feel safe, loved, and heard. It is released during sex to help you orgasm and to bond. Oxytocin is the hormone that also helps your labor progress. It causes contractions for labor and to help your uterus to shrink back following the birth of your babies. It is the hormone that helps release breast milk and the cause of, what is commonly referred to as, the “let down” of your milk.
You must have oxytocin in labor – that is why Pitocin was developed - a synthetic form of oxytocin. The difference between the two is that your body is in control of your own oxytocin – it can go up or down, release when your body says you need it and back off if your body hasn’t caught up. During labor, your hormones are involved in an intricate dance that is orchestrated internally. With Pitocin, it is administered via IV and doesn’t interact or take cues from the other hormones involved in the birth of your babies. Although sometimes necessary, using your own oxytocin in labor, instead of Pitocin, is ideal to keep all hormones and your body’s response in sync.
This amazing hormone can be inhibited or increased not only by your internal mental and physical cues but also by the people and the environment around you.
What’s the connection between my partner and my oxytocin?
If your partner is involved in the birth of your babies, they can have influence over your oxytocin levels. I’m going to relate this to something that I think all of us will understand – sex. Like I mentioned, oxytocin levels increase during sexual activity and is the reason you are able to organism (that is why they say sex can help jumpstart contractions).
So, if your partner thinks about the things that help you “get in the mood”, doing some of those same things while you're labor can be very helpful. I'm not necessarily talking about the more... sexual stuff, but actions like looking you in the eyes, using loving words, stroking your back or your hair... those things. Likewise, the things that “turn you off” during intimate moments are what will decrease your oxytocin and could slow things down during labor or prevent bonding and nursing after the birth of your babies.
You and your partner need to have a conversation about how you should be interacting during labor – it should be a similar one to what puts you in the mood to be intimate with your partner.
There are some basics that seem to relate to most women in labor:
· Safety – feeling protected in this vulnerable state
· Low voices/calm voices
· Gentle touch
· Loving words
· Eye contact
Some common behaviors in partners that can decrease oxytocin:
· Over controlling
· Putting their needs ahead of yours
· Harsh words/tone
· Unconcerned or lacking empathy for you
And you might be thinking, “they'd never do that!” but sometimes things crop up during labor that inadvertently move a partner from an oxytocin facilitator to an inhibitor. Imagine the following scenarios:
· You move to the hospital and are hooked up to machines monitoring you and the babies' heart rates and your contractions – partner turns to those for signs instead of watching you. He becomes out of sync with your facial expressions, body language, and movements.
· Your partner becomes worried or concerned about labor progressing and begins telling you to change positions and what to do.
· You begin to get irritable because your partner is massaging your shoulders and it doesn’t feel good. You quickly say “Ow, stop that!”. He gets offended and walks away.
These are totally reasonable responses for your partner to have .. and for you to have! However, during labor, he needs to squelch these feelings and interests. Anything inhibiting oxytocin from freely flowing shouldn’t be allowed in the room. He needs one goal – To Keep that Oxytocin Flowing.
How can you identify those oxytocin producing behaviors and prepare for labor?
1. During (or after) intimate moments, let him know what feels good. Do you like to be massaged? Do you like the tone of his voice? Point out the things he does that make you feel loved and safe. Those same things will probably help you feel good during labor. (And as a bonus – your partner picks up some tips on how to get you in the sack ;)
2. Take a childbirth class that focuses on identifying oxytocin facilitators and inhibitors. You can practice relaxation and support techniques to get an idea of what type of behaviors may be helpful for your partner to do at certain stages of labor.
3. Encourage your partner to do some research on what facilitates the flow of oxytocin. I recently listened to The Cord podcast and heard an interview with Mark Harris, a male midwife in the UK. He has been supporting men who are supporting expecting moms for decades. He recently wrote a book to help men understand how to become birth experts. Men, Love & Birth may help you both have a deeper conversation about your needs while you’re laboring and how he can best support you on your journey.
4. Consider couple’s therapy. Having a subjective party help you and your partner navigate through the feelings and expectations you both are having about labor, the birth of your children, and Mom, your needs as the person going through labor could help you both better understand each other’s needs and the game plan for the delivery room.
5. Consider an oxytocin back up. It never hurts to feel extra safe and extra supported. A birth doula or your mom may be someone else to consider having in the room. That way if your partner needs a rest there is another caring person there to help keep your feelings of love, safety, and support high.
Mom, you are unique. Only you (not your partner, family or friends) know what will help or inhibit you and your oxytocin. Communication before the big event is key. Don’t be afraid to tell your support team what you like and don’t like.
This is your time, your body, your birth. Own it.