A recent birth has gotten me thinking about those good birthing hormones. I supported a laboring woman but missed the birth. There was a hospital transport at the very end and I stayed back to clean up stuff at home while the midwife's assistant accompanied the couple to the hospital. What was remarkable was that because I missed the actual birth, I missed that shot of adrenalin (part of the family of hormones called catecholamines) and oxytocin that floods through mom during the pushing phase and as baby is being born. Those powerful birthing hormones allow me to make it through the day while caring for my two youngsters on zero hours of sleep. Since I missed the birth, I dragged my tail all day and ended up with a cold. Purely anecdotal of course but I attended a birth while recovering from an illness, stayed up all night long, and was so high on birthing hormones that I woke up the next morning without the faintest sensation of illness (powerful stuff, huh).
Speaking of birthing hormones, my first labor was medication-free up until the point of preparation for the cesarean, but I missed out on that good cocktail of drugs that comes with a vaginal birth. I remember feeling like a train had run over me for at least a few days after the birth. I tore during Fen's birth and had a pretty darn sore bottom but still felt completely ecstatic and was drinking champagne and planning a trip to the park shortly after I pushed him out. If I have the time I will come back and post the pictures after both births, they tell the story.
Dr. Sarah Buckley explains why we don't get that cocktail of hormones when an epidural is in place:
When an epidural is in place, the oxytocin peak that occurs at birth is also inhibited, because the stretch receptors of a birthing woman's lower vagina, which trigger this peak, are numbed. This effect probably persists even when the epidural has worn off and sensation has returned, because the "proprioceptive" nerve fibres involved are smaller than the sensory nerves and therefore more sensitive to drug effects.....
The use of epidurals also inhibits catecholamine release for the mother and, to a lesser extent, for her baby.1
There hasn't been a lot of research on the effects of epidurals on birthing hormones but I think that any mom who has given birth both with an epidural/spinal and without can tell you, there is a big difference.
1Dr. Sarah J. Buckley Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering (Brisbane: One Moon Press, 2005 ), 1301