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What Is Oxytocin? - Definition, Function & Side Effects

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  • 0:01 What is Oxytocin?
  • 0:52 How Does Oxytocin Work?
  • 1:57 Other Implications &…
  • 2:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Lieberman

Bethany is a certified OB/GYN nurse who has a master's degree in Nursing Education.

Oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone, is released by the pituitary gland and is responsible for human behaviors associated with relationships and bonding. It is most commonly used to help mothers produce contractions in labor and control bleeding.

What Is Oxytocin?

Have you ever heard of the love hormone? Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone that is made in the hypothalamus and is stored and released by the posterior pituitary gland in the brain. When released it produces a feeling of love and satisfaction. It is the primary hormone released during an orgasm and causes new moms to form a loving bond with their babies after birth.

Oxytocin affects certain organs in the body, which include the uterus and the breasts. This chemical communicates with the reproductive system during childbirth, lactation, and during certain human behaviors. It is found in men too and has effects on testosterone production and the movement of sperm. This love hormone has been linked to important functions, such as sexual arousal, trust, and bonding.

How Does Oxytocin Work?

Oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream due to electrical activity of nerve cells when they are excited. The release causes the uterus to contract, which causes labor contractions and tightens the uterus after a baby is born to deliver the placenta. Have you ever heard of a milk let down? That's the oxytocin causing the milk to be released into a mother's breasts to feed her baby.

The hormone works by a positive feedback system, where the more oxytocin is released the more is produced. So that explains why a woman in labor continues to produce stronger and more frequent contractions. It also explains why the more a baby nurses, the more breast milk the mother produces.

Have you ever heard of a pregnant woman having her labor induced? Synthetic oxytocin, called pitocin, can be given to expectant mothers through an intravenous drip to stimulate labor contractions or make the contractions she is already experiencing stronger. An injection of pitocin can be given after birth to stop postpartum hemorrhage.

Other Implications & Side Effects

Since the hormone is associated with happy feelings, not having enough has been associated with social and mood disorders, such as relationship difficulties and depression. Having too much has been linked to disorders of the prostate in men.

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