By Kelly Harper
Postnatal Specialist & Creator of Elemental Beginnings ~ Adelaide
Your body and your baby work together to protect both of you during and after birth. This innate system is
powered by a team of reproductive hormones – one of them being oxytocin.
During the third stage (or when the placenta is birthed) your body continues to release oxytocin so that uterine contractions carry on at a regular pace, helping the uterus shrink in size and the placenta to detach.
Skin to skin contact, gazing into your newborns eyes and those first attempts at breastfeeding all help to increase your post-birth oxytocin high; encouraging the placenta to separate and helping prevent postpartum hemorrhaging as a result of the muscle fibres in the uterus closing around the blood vessels to reduce further bleeding. Even once the placenta is delivered, your uterus will continue to contract (those pesky after-birth pains) thanks to oxytocin and return back to it’s original size.
Oxytocin levels peak in mum and babe during the third stage to ensure baby’s survival through establishing that close bond and creating feelings of love and care between the mother/baby dyad. Artificial oxytocin given to the mother is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier and so the mother may miss out on these feelings of attachment and other behavioral effects of natural oxytocin. Attachment between mother and child continues with the sensory experience of pheromones, movement and warmth through touch, hearing the mother’s heartbeat and voice.
Oxytocin plays its part in breastfeeding too by stimulating the let-down of breastmilk. Some of mum’s oxytocin is received by baby through her breastmilk and along with baby’s own oxtocin, continues to promote relaxation and closeness for both.
An oxytocin filled third stage can be promoted by mum having undisturbed contact with baby; a warm, dimly lit, quiet environment; baby initiating breastfeeding; known care providers and mum and babe feeling
safe. This allows the mother to use her own in-built system to birth her placenta, reduce bleeding and love her baby ensuring their survival.
Buckley, S.J. “Leaving Well Enough Alone: Natural Perspectives on the Third Stage of
Labor”,Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting
Choices(2009) New York: Celestial Arts
Hastie C, Fahy KM. “Optimising psychophysiology in third stage of labour: Theory applied to practice”, Women Birth (2009), doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2009.02.004
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Kelly Harper is the owner of Elemental Beginnings Doula & Placenta Services in Adelaide. She provides sleep consultancy, placenta encapsulation and doula services to families during pregnancy, birth and in their fourth trimester.