Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for making the uterus contract, which in turn stimulates contractions and causes labour to commence.
For women who are experiencing a particularly slow labour, an oxytocin drip can be used to bring on stronger and more regular contractions.
Additionally, the hormone plays an important role after the birth as it stimulates the uterus to contract again and expel the placenta.
Release of the hormone is a natural process, but there are ways to encourage a faster release of oxytocin. It is a known fact that putting the baby to the breast stimulates the release of oxytocin and, for this reason, women are advised to do this as soon as possible after the birth to help the removal of the placenta.
If the placenta fails to appear, a woman will be given a synthetic hormone that replicates the effect of oxytocin in order to help the uterus contract.
Additionally, oxytocin plays an important role beyond labour and birth. Each time a woman breastfeeds, more oxytocin is released and this causes the woman's nipple to release milk to her feeding infant (known as the let down reflex).
This in turn helps the uterus to shrink down and return to its normal size and position within the woman's body.