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Oxytocin and Postpartum Depression

Also known as ‘post natal depression,’ postpartum describes some of the emotions that surround the period immediately after childbirth when the bond between mother and baby is often cemented by the production of milk during breast-feeding.  But for many mothers this cementation is made more difficult when their natural hormones don’t kick in and they find it hard to lactate – and this pressure builds up till it spills over into the whole family relationship.

Way back at almost the beginning of the last century, 1906 to be exact, a British scientist discovered a naturally occurring hormone, secreted during childbirth called oxytocin (translated from the Greek meaning ‘speedy birth’) and found that it had a couple of primary functions; first it contracted the uterus to help the birthing process and then it stimulated the mammary glands to begin lactation. While it was Sir Henry Dale[1]  who first discovered the hormone and its connections, much work has been done in the area of postpartum across the years and most recently James F. Paulson, PhD et al, talked about the issue in the ‘Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics’[2]  in an abstract from an article that looked at the links between postpartum on mothers, fathers and parenting. In the full article they discuss the role of oxytocin in lactation and the impact that the reduction or even cessation of milk production can have on stress levels for the whole family.

So, if the hormone is not available naturally – often because there is a block in the communications between the brain and the pituitary – then is there a way to provide the stimulus artificially? Actually there is in the form of supplements available as non-prescription drugs such as Oxytocin Factor sublingual drops or the nasal spray. The sublingual drops may be taken orally – it’s as simple a placing a drop under the tongue, or if the patient prefers using the nasal spray as an inhaler.

What does it do and how does it work? In as few words as possible Oxytocin Factor works by stimulating the production of the hormone and this has the effect of persuading the body to act normally.  It gets to work within, normally, around ten to fifteen minutes but the effect can last hours.  It works by helping to relax thereby reducing stress caused by postpartum and allowing mother, baby and father to function as a unit rather than as dysfunctional individuals. Is it harmful? Well, it is a synthesized version of a naturally occurring substance that is produced in the pituitary gland – it’s about the size of a common or garden pea and is located at the bottom of the brain – so provided the controls are in place, and they are, then there should be no side effects.

There is often a feeling of despair and inadequacy that goes with postnatal depression and the mother, in particular, feels that she is doing something wrong and is wracked with guilt when she can’t feed her baby.  All that is often required is some gentle persuasion and the ability to relax, letting your body do what it wants to do.

The short-term damage that can be done to a relationship caused by postpartum often takes some time to repair and can be known to last months or if not years and anything that can be done to ease this could be welcome.

Another report, again in the ‘Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics’[3]  draws the conclusion that natural breastfeeding can have a positive effect on the mother-child relationship and that increases in the levels of oxytocin supported this.  So, the issue of stress and dysfunctionality caused by postnatal depression can be much reduced and the mood of the mother enhanced by ensuring that sufficient oxytocin is being produced. It is worth concluding that the whole subject of depression is one that is part of the human frailty but there are options available for those seeking support.

If the relationship between parent and offspring can be put on a sound footing from the get go, then it is likely to flourish in the long-term.

For more information contact Bryan Post, Managing Editor of Oxytocin Central info@oxytocincentral.com or call (405) 476-1983


[1] Extract from Dale’s citation http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2972642/
[2] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/2/659.short
[3] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/123/2/483.full?sid=8bc0fde3-025c-4ba0-b9c6-f1915494bce6


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