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Natural hormones optimize baby and maternal health during childbirth

A new report released by Childbirth Connection, a program of the National Partnership for Women & Families, examines the science of hormones produced by mothers and babies immediately before, during and after birth and the significant role these hormones play in healthy outcomes for moms and babies. Authored by Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, the report, Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care, concludes that we should reduce unnecessary medical interventions, which often disrupt these natural systems. 

Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing provides valuable insights into low-cost ways to optimize the health of moms and infants during and immediately after childbirth,” said Carla Thompson, vice president of program strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “This report has important policy and medical practice implications for ensuring that all babies have a chance for a healthy start.”

The report highlights four coordinated hormonal systems that are at play in both baby and mother throughout childbirth. For example, a surge of fight-or-flight stress hormones in babies during labor and right before birth aids in expelling fluid from babies’ lungs as they leave the womb.

Likewise labor-induced spikes in oxytocin, a feel-good chemical in the brain, strengthen the bonding between mother and newborn, as well as the initiation of breastfeeding. These natural childbirth hormones may even enhance breastfeeding and attachment, as well as the emotional health of moms and babies well after birth.

The report advocates for promoting, supporting and protecting the innate, biological processes that occur during childbirth. While medical interventions are critical and life-saving in certain situations, the downside is that they can disrupt the natural hormonal cycles of childbirth, reduce their benefits and create new challenges.

“We issue this report at a time when there is growing recognition that patterns of maternity care in the United States are contributing to unnecessarily high rates of maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality and excess costs,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership. “It should be a wake-up call for the maternity care system and for childbearing women. We need to ensure that we use our precious resources wisely and in ways that benefit women and babies.” 

In addition to the scientific report, Childbirth Connection released new infographics for women and for clinicians, a consumer booklet for women, a fact sheet for policymakers and other materials.

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