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  • Writer's pictureEmma Armstrong

Hormones: Beta - Endorphin


OVERVIEW


  • Beta-endorphon also known as "pleasure hormones". (NCT)

  • Beta-endorphin is one of a group of naturally occurring opiates (drugs derived from the opium poppy), with properties similar to pethidine, morphine, and fentanyl, and has been shown to work on the same receptors of the brain. (AIMS)

  • It is secreted from the pituitary gland under conditions of pain and stress, when it acts to restore homeostasis (physiological balance); for example, by acting as a natural painkiller. (AIMS)

  • Beta-endorphin also activates the powerful mesocorticolimbic dopamine reward system, producing reward and pleasure in association with important reproductive activities including mating, birth, and breastfeeding. (AIMS)

  • When you face stress or pain, your body produces calming and pain-relieving hormones called endorphins. (CHILDBIRTH)


Low levels of endorphins can cause problems in labor and birth by:


  • Causing labor to be excessively painful and difficult to tolerate.

  • Leading health care providers to respond to this problem with interventions.


You can enhance your body's production of endorphins during labor and birth by:


  • Staying calm, comfortable and confident.

  • Avoiding disturbances, such as unwelcome people or noise and uncomfortable procedures.

  • Delaying or avoiding epidural or opioids for pain relief.


How do you release endorphins during labor? (THE FAMILY WAY)

Yoga and relaxation strategies taught in childbirth classes such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and massage can reduce high levels of stress. Epidural analgesia decreases levels of both oxytocin, which causes labor contractions, and endorphins, which decrease pain and stress.


INTERESTING INFO


  • Like the addictive opiates, beta-endorphin reduces the effects of stress and induces feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and dependency. (AIMS)

  • Beta-endorphin helps in the final phase of your baby’s developing lungs too. (NCT)

  • You may have higher levels of endorphins near the end of pregnancy. For women who don’t use pain medication during labor, the level of endorphins continues to rise steadily and steeply through the birth of the baby. (Most studies have found a sharp drop in endorphin levels with use of epidural or opioid pain medication.) (CHILDBIRTH)


POST BIRTH & BREASTFEEDING


  • Beta-endorphin is also important in breastfeeding. Levels peak in the mother twenty minutes after commencement, and beta-endorphin is also present in breastmilk. Researchers have found higher levels, at four days postpartum, in the breastmilk of mothers who have had a normal birth, compared with caesarean mothers; they speculate that this extra dose of beta-endorphin is designed to help the newborn with the stressful transition to life outside the womb.

  • Beta-endorphin also helps with the release of prolactin during labour, preparing your breasts for feeding. (NCT)

  • In this early postpartum period, endorphins are believed to play a role in strengthening the mother-infant relationship. A drop in endorphin levels at this time may contribute to the "blues," or postpartum depression, that many women experience for a brief time after birth. (CHILDBIRTH)


FACTS


  1. Beta-endorphin levels, as measured in the mother's bloodstream, increase throughout labour, peaking at the time of birth, and subsiding in the first one to three hours. Levels in the new mother's limbic system are elevated for much longer, as beta-endorphin takes more than twenty-one hours to break down within the brain and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). (AIMS)

  2. Babies also receive beta-endorphins in the breast milk and this is to help them cope with the pain and discomfort experienced as their skull bones are moulded and pushed through the birth canal. (EVERYMUM)

  3. Endorphin levels are highest during vaginal deliveries in unmedicated mothers. They are lower in women who have a cesarean section after laboring on their own for some time and even lower in women who have a cesarean without experiencing labor. (HEALTH FOUNDATIONS)

  4. Endorphins can actually help regulate the pace of labor—high levels produced in the body and slow labor by lowering oxytocin levels, which can serve to regulate the intensity of labor and our ability to manage it. (HEALTH FOUNDATIONS).

  5. Endorphins behave differently from woman to woman, which is perhaps one factor in why women have different perceptions of the pain of childbirth. (HEALTH FOUNDATIONS).


https://www.aims.org.uk/journal/item/undisturbed-birth https://www.nct.org.uk/labour-birth/your-guide-labour/hormones-labour-oxytocin-and-others-how-they-work http://www.childbirthconnection.org/maternity-care/role-of-hormones/ https://www.everymum.ie/pregnancy/oxytocin-beta-endorphins-prolactin-your-hormones-during-labour-explained/ https://thefamilyway.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Ten-Ways-Hormones.pdf https://www.health-foundations.com/blog/2013/10/18/endorphins-in-childbirth-bodys-natural-painkillers

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