#51 The Hormone Cascade

During labor and delivery, there is a series of hormones which cause progressive intensity of uterine contractions and pain relief. This hormone cascade starts with prostaglandin from the placenta. As your labor progesses, your body adds oxytocin, then prolactin, endorphins and even epinephrine These hormones cause labor to progress while adding natural pain relief, a feeling of well-being, and get you ready for birth and breast feeding.

Mothers like a dark, warm, quiet, and safe environment. They should be able to choose who is present, for example husband and/or Doula. Common activities which interfere with the hormone cascade include bright lights, loud noises, a cold environment, starting an IV, and all of the other testing which moms get when hospitalized during labor. Fear causes the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine which cause more anxiety, suppress labor, and interfere with your baby’s heart rate.

In normal labor, the hormone cascade begins with natural oxytocin introduced after 5 centimeters dilation. How oxytocin interferes with the natural hormone cascade depends on when it is introduced. In normal labor, oxytocin presents at about 5 or 6 centimeters of dilation.

The first half of labor is getting ready, that is, prostaglandin mediated. It includes softening of the cervix and vagina, and your baby’s head descending. Adding additional oxytocin in the form of pitocin increases pain and the need for an epidural. Since nature adds oxytocin in the last half of delivery and labor, the additional oxytocin once the cervix is dilated 5 centimeters interferes less with the cascade, but still makes contractions more intense.

With natural labor, your hormone cascade will create what I call your “Zen world.” The hormone cascade prepares and augments your movement into an altered state of consciousness, which in turn relieves some of the pain of labor. The most important addition is a pain-reliever called endorphin, which is your body’s own morphine. Endorphin puts you in the “Zen World,” a state of altered consciousness, and is the primary driver in the performance of many athletes. This hormone cascade prepares a mother for bonding, increasing her feeling of well-being, and awareness of smell and touch to augment breast-feeding.

While it is impossible to say exactly how the introduction of synthetic oxytocin will influence your labor, the truth is that it most likely does. Natural oxytocin is added to the second half of your labor with your prolactin, endorphins and epinephrine, your hormone cascade.
Usually contractions hurt more with the addition of synthetic oxytocin and therefore an epidural is required. There are no research studies indicating how an epidural affects your hormone cascade during labor and delivery, including how synthetic oxytocin affects endorphins, prolactin, oxytocin and bonding instinct.