Oxytocin, or the ‘hormone of health and life’, is a hugely important substance for pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding – working in a woman’s body and brain to make changes during pregnancy, optimise labour, increase milk production and support bonding. Research has shown that we can encourage the body’s oxytocin system by supporting mothers’ wellbeing through birth practices and postnatal care. We also now know that oxytocin is present in everyone, of any age, directing a whole system of effects that have consequences for family life, including bonding, stress reduction and social interaction.
In Why Oxytocin Matters Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg, a leading oxytocin researcher, shows how a better understanding of our biology can be immensely helpful for new parents and those who work to support families.
This book was a book I was very much interested to ready. It is a small book, easy to carry and a quick read. Very approachable book that gives you a basic overview of Oxytocin without going into too much scientific blurb, It is designed for mothers and health practitioners that like a light ready. There are no pictures or tables in the book to get an understanding on how Oxytocin works and how it is influenced, and the references are all piled into a biography at the end. But for an overview on this detailed subject it ticks many boxes and it is worth reading.
I was excited to get my hands on this little book for a number of reasons, most of them unashamedly personal. Coming to this from the perspective of a Lactation Consultant and a mother with a history of very difficult breastfeeding experiences, I am consistently annoyed at the lack of research surrounding the impacts of stress on breastfeeding success, and was looking forward to learning more from an expert in the field. Unfortunately, I felt that the exploration of this was very minimal, with just one paragraph that states that yes, environmental stressors and internal stresses can inhibit oxytocin release, and that breastfeeding mothers should aim for a calm and familiar environment in order to relax and optimise oxytocin release. There is later a short scientific explanation of the way that stress hormones are reduced in the presence of oxytocin, and that breastfeeding can therefore be a kind of ‘buffer’ to stress. I wanted more. But, in saying that, I DO love that this topic itself was deemed important enough to be included, and perhaps my frustration at this lack of research is also shared by the author themself!
I would have loved to have more information on oxytocin and breastfeeding, in a more complex way. The book focuses very much on oxytocin’s role during birth, despite later saying that ‘Breastfeeding is one of the most oxytocin-rich periods in life’. There is a whole chapter dedicated to synthetic oxytocin, for instance, but there is no reference whatsoever to the nasal oxytocin sprays that some women use when breastfeeding, to help elicit a letdown. It seemed that the breastfeeding related sections were kept simplistic and at an introductory level, when I personally feel that most people who are interested in reading a book solely dedicated to oxytocin will be doing so with a want for more complexities. But that might just be me ;)
If you’re working more in the birthing world, then this book will no doubt be an interesting read, but my take-away is that it seems I’d like to have a whole separate book entitled ‘Why Oxytocin Matters to Breastfeeding’.
How do you write a succinct primer on a topic that touches almost all human interactions… a topic that encompasses love, birth, caring, community and health? Well if you are the world leading authority on the topic for decades then it can seem like a challenge to fit it all in. Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg is one such giant amongst us. She has not only made possible for us to understand the physiology and importance of Oxytocin and its role in human health but has a way of putting the information across that doesn’t feel like you are reading a science textbook! Now that’s one of the hardest things to do in my opinion.
If you want to know why safeguarding your physiological environment to promote a positive space during pregnancy, birth and postnatal period is paramount, then oxytocin is the answer. This book will help you get a rounded approach on the topic and motivate you to consider your behaviours, actions and environment to maximise the impact of the hormone and its benefits both as a mother and for your baby.
The narrative is spread from pregnancy, to birth to postnatal period and includes information within the context of synthetic oxytocin use in a balanced and informative manner. Each section has a bulleted summary that helps in keeping the key points in mind as you move on to the next section. However, the sections within each chapter though broad and expansive are sometimes almost too short to get meaningful information from which really robs from the fantastic story of the role of oxytocin. I must admit at this stage however, that as a keen reader on all things birth physiology I have read all of Kerstin’s previous books on Oxytocin, so I haven’t come to this book without some prior knowledge on the topic. Thus, the need for depth on some topics could possibly reflect more on me as a reader than the book.
The reason I love this book is it is such a great introduction to the topic if you haven’t read anything on oxytocin before. However, like me if you know the area in a general way this book still adds to your understanding especially the breath of influence Oxytocin has on the various bodily functions and helps consolidate that knowledge.
If you are pregnant or a new mother (and you have time to read!), this book will give you a great overview of oxytocin and may even help you structure your decisions around birth and mothering accordingly. If you are a birth educator, you will be able to use the information in the book to be able to clearly and simply explain the role of oxytocin in the perinatal period to your clients. It’s a winner in any context and should be on your shelf.
This book is very informative, an absolutely must have for midwives health visitors ibclcs and anyone working with mothers and babies. The effects of oxytocin are wide reaching and imperative for our society right now.