The Essential Hormones That Start The Labor Process

Pregnancy is a challenging and exciting time. There are many things to look forward to, such as getting supplies ready for the baby, deciding on a name, and imagining what they will be like. Your mind becomes transfixed on the baby. But very quickly, your mind will focus on yourself in relation to your baby as you start to notice changes.

These changes will begin within the first trimester. You will see physical changes, emotional changes, and mental changes. What all of these changes have in common is that they are brought on by hormones. Hormones travel through your system and will aim to help different organs of the body function optimally during pregnancy. Organs, such as your uterus and cervix, are targeted by vital hormones to accommodate the baby.

Hormones occur to nurture the baby and prepare you for the process of childbirth. Ah, childbirth. That is the end goal that we want to ensure goes smoothly. There are a lot of hormones that affect the labor process.

Although this article will focus on the essential hormones that start the labor process, we must also discuss the importance of an essential hormone that is created during pregnancy – progesterone. Progesterone is essential as it the hormone that is with you from the beginning of your pregnancy to the end. It plays a role in nurturing your baby and thus getting it ready for labor. 

7 Progesterone

Progesterone is a hormone that is naturally released at the very start of your pregnancy. It is the hormone that plays a role in your menstrual cycle as it is linked to your blood vessels. Once an egg is fertilized, progesterone encourages the health of your blood vessels so that the lining of your womb is nourished for your baby.

Progesterone plays a part in the development of protein in the endometrium. The endometrium lines the uterus walls with mucous membranes. This becomes thicker throughout the pregnancy. Progesterone plays a vital part in ensuring that the tissues in the lining of your uterus are ready for implantation.

Progesterone also plays an important role in creating the placenta. The placenta helps by passing oxygen and nutrients from you to the baby. The placenta will also pass along any antibodies that your body has already developed to your baby. Levels of progesterone will gradually increase in your body throughout your pregnancy.

During your pregnancy, your body will develop tissues in your breasts to ready them for breastfeeding, as well as reinforcing the walls of your uterus. The latter is extremely vital to the labor process as your uterus needs to be at its strongest in order to push the baby through and into the world.

6 Oxytocin

Oxytocin is commonly known as the “love hormone”. This hormone is released during sexual intercourse and is responsible for our feelings to nurture, trust, and behave with positive intent. Just like progesterone, oxytocin is produced throughout pregnancy. However, the hormone becomes stronger and takes effect during labor as the uterus starts to contract.

During labor, oxytocin affects your contractions. Contractions are painful, but are necessary for childbirth. Contractions are what helps the cervix become thin and wide enough for the baby to leave the birth canal. The stronger the contractions are, the better, as it will help reduce the chances of bleeding.

Issues may arise when there is a decrease in the levels of oxytocin. One of the most common issues that may occur due to lack of oxytocin is prolonged labor. Without oxytocin, the cervix hasn’t widened enough to allow the baby through. Another common issue is extreme bleeding of the placenta after childbirth.

Problems occurring from low amounts of oxytocin in the body are treated by giving oxytocin to the mother. Adding oxytocin to the system will induce labor and lower the chances of excessive bleeding. Oxytocin needs to be present after birth as well. It is essential for the production of breast milk. It assists by moving the milk to the breast for feeding. The easier it is for the breast milk to be released the more comfortable it is to breastfeed.

5 Prolactin

Prolactin is a hormone that is released during labor. It has similar functions as oxytocin. It helps with the development of breast milk and offers nurturing feelings. Much like oxytocin and progesterone, your body steadily produces prolactin throughout pregnancy. This hormone particularly becomes potent during labor and even more evident after birth.

Prolactin is not specific to mothers and labor. Prolactin is also found in males, as well as babies. The hormone affects men in a similar way, in that they experience nurturing feelings. As a result, this allows them to become more reactive to the needs of their babies.

Prolactin is finicky in the sense that the level of it is controlled by another hormone called dopamine. Dopamine affects prolactin by inhibiting its production. Lack of prolactin will hinder the development of the lactation process. In other words, breastfeeding will be difficult due to the low count of breast milk.

4 Endorphins

We are all familiar with what endorphins are. We know them as hormones that are released when we exercise. They have the reputation of being the ‘happy hormones’ – the hormones that give you a surge of energy and make you feel happy. When you are exercising, you are putting your body through tension and exertion to the point where endorphins are released to ease the strain. Endorphins give you that sense of fulfillment for completing a difficult task.

How do Endorphins play a part in labor? Endorphins are a hormone that is released as a response to stress and pain. From the moment your body is contracting from labor, right until you are giving birth, the release of endorphins arrive and gradually become stronger. The symptoms of endorphins may be the same during labor as it is during exercise or the completion of other challenging tasks. You will most likely experience a high heart rate, and sense of high alertness.

Low amounts of endorphins in your system will give you the opposite effect and cause labor to feel intolerable and extremely painful. Although endorphins alone won’t make labor a painless process, it is a natural hormone that will encourage your system to endure.

High endorphin levels give you the energy and alertness to endure the challenges faced during labor, no matter how grueling it is. However, research has found that levels of endorphins will decrease with the use of labor easing medication, such as an epidural.

3 Prostaglandins

Prostaglandin is another hormone needed to induce labor. Although it is a little different from the other pregnancy hormones. Rather than being created in the bloodstream, it is developed within specific organs that need it. Similar to endorphins, prostaglandins are produced in response to pain. However, unlike endorphins, this hormone works harder and is more effective in the sense that it has healing functions.

Prostaglandins will help heal you during labor by targeting areas of inflammation, tissue damage, and infections. By helping these areas heal, it is lowering the chances of you catching a fever. Prostaglandins will also help ease pain by normalizing your muscle contractions in your gut and airway.

The major role of prostaglandins is to assist the functions of your blood. More specifically, prostaglandins will help prevent blood loss by getting rid of blood clots when they are no longer useful. Women may find they fall short of prostaglandins because of its natural nature. Prostaglandins are broken down by the body quickly and thus making its effect quite temporary.

Not having enough prostaglandins during the labor process may cause complications. These complications may arrive in the form of longer and more painful labor, more blood clots, unnecessary bleeding, and slower rate of healing after birth. Your doctor or midwife will be sure to inform you of your prostaglandins levels and will take measures to ensure it is at a safe level. 

2 Adrenaline

Just like endorphins, adrenaline is something we are all familiar with. We know adrenaline as the feeling you get when you take part in an activity that require you to do something out of your comfort zone. Adrenaline rushes through your body which gives you the confidence and push to see the activity through.

Adrenaline in the labor process is not so different from when you go bungee jumping, sky diving, or give a stressful presentation. Adrenaline is a hormone that is released into the nervous system. It assists in the labor process by managing your “flight or fight” reaction.

It is also said that adrenaline affects the baby by enabling the baby to be attentive and alert when they are born. However, you may not see the effect of adrenaline in your baby right away. As you know, babies have a tendency to cry as they enter the world. When they are settled in your arms, eyes wide, you can be sure they are feeling the adrenaline of being born.

In labor, your heart rate and blood pressure rise as the adrenaline rushes through your bloodstream. The effects of adrenaline occur within the first 2-3 minutes of labor. Adrenaline gives you that extra needed boost to concur the stressful situation that is labor. It is possible to have adrenaline injected into you, but rarely will you have trouble producing adrenaline. The possibility of having too much adrenaline is equally as rare. 

1 Relaxin

Relaxin is a hormone that is found within women and men. In men, relaxin is found primarily in the bloodstream, but may also be detected in semen. In women, relaxin is present during the menstrual cycle and is the most potent during the first three months of pregnancy. It’s the hormone that guides the process of implantation, as well as assisting in the development of the placenta.

Relaxin takes part in supporting the mother’s cardiovascular system by preparing it for the increase in oxygen and blood. Just like the name implies, relaxin is a hormone that is there to make labor easier. Relaxin calms the walls of the uterus so that contractions do not occur earlier than expected. Too much relaxin may have the opposite effect where the mother may give birth prematurely.

Much like the other essential labor hormones, relaxin is present at labor. During the labor process, relaxin moderates and relaxes the cervix and vagina, getting it ready for birth. As well, it may also ease the muscles within the pelvis during childbirth.

Similar to prostaglandins in that it impacts the blood system by regulating blood vessels. Relaxin will stimulate the progression of new blood vessels. The hormone also has anti-inflammatory properties. The benefits of relaxin will help with tissue healing which is much needed during labor. 

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