In over 30 pages of oxytocin physiology, the Buckley report gives details of the powers of this wondrous hormone. I want to highlight two things which I continue to find awe-inspiring.
Buckley states, "Oxytocin mechanisms may help to protect the fetal brain from labor hypoxia, according to animal studies. This mechanism involves the transfer of maternal oxytocin through the placenta and into the fetal brain, and may be inactive before the physiologic onset of labor. High-dose synthetic oxytocin and oxytocin-antagonist drugs (used in women to treat threatened premature labor) inactivate this neuoprotection in animal studies. Deficits in this neuroprotection are associated with animal models of autism," (2015, p 39). As oxytocin crosses the blood-brain barrier into the fetal brain, brain activity is reduced through activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutric acid (GABA). This begins 24 hours just prior to the physiologic onset of labor, creating a protection for the infant again birth hypoxia. With the administration of high levels of synthetic oxytocin, these neuroprotective effects are reduced.
Secondly, "skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth...promotes oxytocin release, which reduces stress and fosters 'calm and connection.' Postpartum skin-to-skin contact also: stabilizes newborn physiology, promotes maternal-newborn sensory interactions, keeps the newborn warm through maternal oxytocin-related vasodialation, and maternal confidence. Through the early weeks, skin-to-skin contact may benefit maternal psychological well-being by the release of oxytocin and other hormones. From the perspective of hormonal physiology, maternal-infant separation that disallows skin-to-skin contact is a major intervention that requires a strong indication," (Buckley, 2015, p 48). Newborns go through a well-documented sequence of behaviors, including crawling to the breast, hand use, and self-attachment. "Even brief separation for weighing can disrupt newborn sequencing and reduce the chance of successful suckling," (p 48). The report describes visualizing, vocalizing, and olfaction during skin-to-skin, all of which increase initiation and duration of breastfeeding, as well as bonding and attachment. A Cochrane study cited in the report found these long-term benefits of early skin-to-skin care: (1) less maternal anxiety, and more confidence with their infants at hospital discharge; (2) higher breastfeeding rates in the early months; (3) longer total duration of breastfeeding; and (4) no negative effects. One study found, "lower cortisol levels and depression scores over the first month for women experiencing six extra hours of skin-to-skin contact with their newborn in the first week, compared with women in the control group," (p 49).
There is so much valuable information contained in the Buckley report that I cannot possible do it justice. Once again, I encourage you to download this FREE report and take time to go through it.
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