#3: Adrenalin versus Oxytocin

During a stressful event, the body automatically chooses to protect itself by a high level of alertness (fight or flight) or it chooses to freeze. This is a response generated in the autonomic nervous system in our brainstem, thus it does not require a rational decision to act. This is an amazing quality of the body, as it allows us to respond to stressors immediately when in danger (also look at this video). An important hormone that is activated during the fight or flight response in adrenalin. Among animals you will see that their stress (or levels of adrenalin) is afterwards (when in safety) released by shaking / trembling, whereby the animal neutralizes itself (look at how a cat/dog can tremble the legs or skin after a fight). 

TRE recognizes that human beings have the same automatic response of the body, “my legs were shaking” is something that is often heard after an intensely stressful experience. But unfortunately, we as social human beings, see this as an undesirable effect, a sign of weakness (they might think I’m afraid). We try to suppress our body’s signs of trembling as much as possible. But because we then do not release the charge, we unconsciously build chronic muscle tension that we start to feel in our body in other ways, for example, pain or insomnia. If reading about TRE is new to you, watch this introduction video of the method of TRE by David Berceli or read more information (English) / meer informatie (on my website in Dutch)

The influence of hormones on the uterus

What is interesting is that the uterus of a woman responds to the levels of adrenalin in the body (released when feeling stress) as well as levels of oxytocin (commonly known as the ‘love’ hormone as it is released in pulses during lovemaking, childbirth and breastfeeding, and engenders emotions of love). During my birth preparation classes I got to gather some more information about the process of giving birth and the release of hormones which made me further realize the value of TRE during pregnancy and birth.


When the uterus starts to contract, to start the proces of giving birth, the hormone oxytocin is generated in the (hypothalamus of the) body. Oxytocin causes the rhythmic uterine contractions of labour, and levels soar towards the end of labour stimulated by ‘stretch receptors’ in the vagina as the baby descends. It is also responsible for the ‘fetal ejection reflex’ at the end of childbirth facilitating birthing quickly and easily at the end of an undisturbed labour. These high levels of oxytocin also benefit the baby as they cross the placental barrier and switch off baby’s brain cells reducing the amount of oxygen required during labour. Following delivery oxytocin stimulates the ‘placental ejection reflex reducing the risk of haemorrhage and also triggers the ‘milk ejection’ or ‘let down’ reflex in breastfeeding. Meanwhile, the baby has also been producing oxytocin so that crucial bonding is initiated between the baby and its parents, further enhanced by skin to skin touching directly after birth. Suckling at the breast stimulates more oxytocin to be produced via the hypothalamus. Oxytocin furthermore promotes feeling of contentment, a reduction in anxiety and feelings of calmness. Synthetic oxytocin, often injected when contractions are not strong enough, does not cross the blood/brain barrier except in small amounts, thus therefore does not have the same euphoric effects as natural oxytocin.


High levels of ‘stress hormones’ interfere with oxytocin levels during labour and may cause a delay in progress. In the first stage of labour high levels of adrenalin inhibit oxytocin production which in turn slows or stalls giving birth. This is a functional response of your body: in case of a life or death situation arising (such as a fire or accident), your body will first make sure you get yourself and your baby into safety before continuing the birth process. But when having a normal birth, high levels of adrenalin can interfere, and slow down the birth process. They also reduce blood flow to the uterus, placenta and indirectly to the baby as the blood is redirected to major muscles groups. Therefore, high levels of these hormones may prolong labour and lead to fetal distress.

Recent research has indicated that a sudden increase in adrenalin at the end of labour may be beneficial, activating the ‘fetal ejection reflex’ and a surge of strong contractions facilitating an easy and quick birth. Post delivery effects reported are a rapid drop in levels of adrenalin when having side effects like feeling cold and shivery. This is interesting, because what they describe is the neurogenic tremor response (invited during TRE), which brings back the body into homeostasis!

Keeping the levels of adrenalin low and levels of oxytocin high

For me, it is important to realize how our body (my body) is designed and meant to give birth in a natural way. It seems nowadays women are prepared to „bear the pain” and we can choose a variety of medications to offer relief (while they actually they take away the awareness level of your most powerful moment of feeling your body and your baby work together in a natural process and affect the natural bonding process of you and your baby by changing the natural birth process). 

But it is a fact that many women start their pregnancy and birth process with already high levels of adrenalin. Thus making sure you are, or learn to be, in a relaxed state during pregnancy and when starting the birth process is therefore important to facilitate the flow of oxytocin and thereby helps to open the birth canal. Reducing stress and anxiety is possible using TRE (or even other methods like hypnobirthing). This can not only help to decrease levels of adrenalin in the body, but also releases the deep inner core muscle of our body (the psoas muscle), further relaxing the opening of the birth canal. 

Some of the following stressors should be considered when in the moment of giving birth, as they rise your levels of adrenalin: 

  • there no feeling of privacy
  • there is to much distraction
  • when you are feeling shame, scared, in a hurry or cold
  • when your focus is to much on pleasing others present in the room
  • when there is to much light or loud sounds
  • when you are thinking to much about what could happen or what you wish to happen

The same factors can inhibit the natural release from neurogenic tremors provoked by TRE. Thus, try to make sure you create your safe space. And celebrate whenever you feel your body starts to shake in the process of giving birth, GREAT, your body helps you to reduce the stress hormones in the body and creates a possibility to reconnect to yourself, the birth process and your baby!