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This is also true of another hormone released during labour called prolactin. Oxytocin levels rise at the onset of labour, causing regular contractions of the womb and abdominal muscles. Oxytocin-induced contractions become stronger and more frequentwithout the influence of progesterone and oestrogen, which at high levels prevent labour. The cervix must dilate open to around 10cm for the baby to pass through. Oxytocin, along with other hormones, stimulates ripening of the cervix leading to successive dilation during labour. Oxytocin, with the help of the high levels of oestrogen, causes the release of a group of hormones, known as prostaglandins , which may play a role in ripening of the cervix.

Levels of relaxin also increase rapidly during labour. As labour contractions become more intense, natural pain relief hormones are released. Known as beta-endorphins, they are similar to drugs like morphine and act on the same receptors in the brain. As well as pain relief, they can also induce feelings of elation and happiness in the mother. A sudden rush of these hormones just before birth causes a surge of energy in the mother and several very strong contractions which help to deliver the baby.

When the baby is born, oxytocin continues to contract the womb in order to restrict blood flow to the womb and reduce the risk of bleeding and to help detach the placenta which is delivered shortly afterwards. Blood levels of oxytocin and prolactin are very high, which supports bonding between the mother and baby. Skin-to-skin and eye contact between the mother and baby also stimulate the release of oxytocin and prolactin, further encouraging bonding. Many mothers describe being in a euphoric state just after labour; this is due to the effects of oxytocin, prolactin and beta-endorphins.

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Women are actually able to breastfeed at around four months of pregnancy but high levels of progesterone and oestrogen during this time prevent lactation. After the placenta is delivered during birth, the blood levels of progesterone and oestrogen fall, allowing the mother to produce the first meal of colostrum, a high density milk that contains more protein , minerals and fat -soluble vitamins A and K than mature milk, which is eminently suitable for the newborn.

As well as stimulating bonding, these hormones also aid milk release and further milk production. Mature milk that nourishes the baby and induces sleep starts to be produced about four days after birth.

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    Ask your doctor about support or compression hose. These can help prevent or ease varicose veins. Your hormones are on a roller coaster ride during pregnancy. Plus, your whole life is changing.

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    Get help right away if you feel sad or think about suicide. Eat frequent, small meals. Avoid spicy, greasy or acidic foods. Do not lie down right after eating. Ask your doctor about taking antacids.