Oxytocin: Bonding & Postpartum Recovery
In addition its nutritional benefits for baby, breastfeeding can help new moms bond with baby, recover from childbirth and can even help reduce the risk for postpartum depression. Oxytocin, a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is involved in childbirth and breast-feeding plays a large role in this--so much so that it is often referred to as the love hormone.
Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus. From there, it is transported to and secreted by the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain. Stimulation of the nipples triggers its release. Oxytocin is also the hormone behind the milk ejection reflex (MER), also known as the “letdown,” which is the contraction of milk at the beginning of each feeding session.
Labor and Postpartum Recovery
Oxytocin increases uterine motility, causing contractions in the muscles of the uterus, or womb. As the cervix and vagina start to widen for labor, oxytocin is released. This widening increases as further contractions occur. Oxytocin also plays a key role in postpartum recovery as it causes contraction of the uterus to minimize postpartum bleeding and the return of the initial uterine size.
Bonding with Baby
Oxytocin also has a social/emotional function as it impacts bonding behavior as it is associated with empathy, trust, intense happiness, satisfaction and relationship-building.