Cortisol - What is it and how does it affect you and baby?

When your baby is crying it's unpleasant. For everybody. 


But of course our bodies are amazing, and in this instance our hero is a stress hormone called Cortisol. It is produced in our adrenal glands in our nervous system, and you can consider it your “built in alarm”!

This hormone works in amazing ways; the cortisol receptors manage how your body uses carbs, fats and proteins, it keeps inflammation down, regulates your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, metabolism and more.

Essentially, cortisol helps your body to regulate itself from the negative emotional response that you have experienced.


However…. this is where it gets a little more serious.


When we or a baby cry for a prolonged time, if you or baby are under constant stress and that "built in alarm" is always on, it can result in high cortisol levels and these levels going into overdrive.

This in turn can lead to a number of health problems, like anxiety and depression, headaches, heart disease, memory or concentration problems, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, and weight gain. 

 

baby crying to show effects of heightened levels of cortisol

 

How skin to skin contact reduces cortisol

Now there are many benefits of skin to skin contact and this is one of them -  babywearing can help! Did you know this stress hormone in both parents and babies is considerably lower after only 20 minutes of skin to skin contact?


It is truly fascinating!


By babywearing in a baby sling and decreasing your cortisol levels, you can increase yours and baby’s sleep quality and help baby preserve healthy fat. So if you and baby are getting a worthy amount of skin-to-skin contact then you should both in fact be sleeping a lot better!

What’s even better is when cortisol levels are reduced, so are stomach and intestinal problems, meaning better absorption and digestion of nutrients.

When baby has lower cortisol levels their body can preserve healthy fat, which also helps to maintain birth weight and keep body temperature warm.

 

Cortisol and Oxytocin 

 

They both go hand in hand!

Cortisol being the stress hormone and Oxytocin being the "love hormone". Oxytocin releases stress-buffering effects, which in turn reduces cortisol levels. (Read more on oxytocin here!)

When cortisol’s stress responses and oxytocin’s protective stress-buffering effects reach a balance, your body is in a happy equilibrium.  

Parent anxiety levels are directly related to oxytocin and cortisol levels. Parents with greater oxytocin levels are better synchronised with their baby and have quicker and better responsiveness during interactions with them.

So you will notice baby’s needs before they have to resort to crying to make themselves heard!

Have any more questions on cortisol? We'd be happy to answer them!