Oxytocin: hormone

Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the brain and occurs in women. This hormone also occurs in men, under a different name. It is mainly responsible for the contraction of the uterus during childbirth and for the let-down reflex during breastfeeding. Sometimes artificial oxytocin is administered to induce labor or in case of problems with breastfeeding. The hormone is also known as the love hormone because it is released during all forms of intimacy and feelings of love and warmth (security).

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that occurs in women during pregnancy and after childbirth. It is produced in the posterior pituitary gland: a gland under the brain. Oxytocin only occurs in women. In men, a similar hormone is called vasopressin.

When is this hormone produced?

The hormone is closely linked to pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. But oxytocin is also produced outside these periods. For example, during hugging, making out, eye contact, flirting and touching. The hormone is also produced by a loving speech or words and by petting pets. The hormone is also called the love hormone.
In addition, oxytocin plays an important role during pregnancy and childbirth. It is a contraction stimulant and it ensures that milk is produced more quickly during breastfeeding.

Blood pressure lowering and stress reducing

Oxytocin makes us feel happy. It lowers blood pressure and affects stress levels. People who receive a lot of attention and warmth from others have a better immune system and feel happy and satisfied. Men and children also produce this hormone, sometimes under a different name. Women and children seem to be more sensitive to intimacy in the broadest sense of the word, which means they produce this hormone more quickly. In sick patients, the effect of the hormone becomes more apparent: when sick patients feel safe and loved, wounds and inflammation heal much faster. Stress, on the other hand, lowers resistance and slows down the healing process.


During childbirth, a larger amount of oxytocin is released. It causes contractions of smooth muscles like those of the uterus. It ensures that the uterus continues to contract to aid delivery. The body does not produce oxytocin continuously during labor: it comes in stages when it is needed. Oxytocin inhibits the production of endorphins, a natural painkiller. For this reason, the body ensures an interaction between the two. At a certain point there is a clear peak in the production of oxytocin: this ensures the natural and rapid course of labor. After delivery, the body continues to produce the hormone that stimulates the uterus to expel the placenta (afterbirth). Women who have contractions that are too weak or whose contractions have stopped are sometimes helped with artificial oxytocin. Induction of labor (inducing contractions) is also done using this artificial hormone. A disadvantage is that it usually causes a storm of contractions: a large number of strong contractions in succession that are difficult to absorb. This is caused by the continuous flow of oxytocin, something that is not continuous in the body but is in balance with other hormones. The bonding process between mother and child also sometimes does not proceed normally in women who have been given artificial oxytocin.
During breastfeeding, oxytocin is released by stimulation of the nipples. This causes the breast milk to be forced into the ducts of the mammary glands. Lactating women therefore produce more oxytocin. This is reflected in the uterus after childbirth: in these women the uterus returns to its normal size more quickly than in women who are not breastfeeding. Blood loss after childbirth is also significantly less in these women because the uterus contracts well. The advantage of contracting the uterus is that it closes damaged blood vessels.

Nasal spray with oxytocin

Sometimes the woman is prescribed oxytocin in the form of a nasal spray. This is to help initiate breastfeeding in women where the let-down reflex does not work sufficiently. This causes too much milk to remain in the breasts, resulting in painful full breasts. The baby may also receive too little milk if the let-down reflex does not work sufficiently. Oxytocin ensures that the milk is pressed into the mammary glands. The baby will often need to be latched on to stimulate breastfeeding. Do not use this medicine if you have palpitations or cardiac arrhythmias. The nasal spray should be administered approximately five minutes before breastfeeding. After a few minutes the drug starts to work and the let-down reflex will arise. The drug should never be used during pregnancy, because artificial oxytocin can induce contractions.

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