Oxytocin (OT) is a lovely, euphoric hormone associated with Love, and is known for its positive effects on well-being and relaxation. It is released during pleasure, and causes feelings of relaxation, empathy, trust, connection, and sexual arousal, while simultaneously diminishing feelings of fear and acting as a natural pain relief. It is produced in both men and women, who have receptors in the brain and reproductive organs .
The hormone is released in response to physiological and emotional stimuli:
* Sexual activity (such as nipple stimulation & orgasm)
* Thinking about sexual activity
* Skin-to-skin contact
* Social contact – contributes to social bonding that occurs between lovers, friends & colleagues
* Being kind and loving
* Giving and receiving massage
* Breastfeeding – stimulates milk let-down (smooth muscle contraction moves milk through the ducts)
* Labor & Birth – OT stimulates uterine contractions necessary to birth the baby (the highest levels of OT a woman ever experiences are in the first hours after birth – this promotes bonding between parents & infant, works as pain relief, assists with nursing, etc.)
Towards the end of pregnancy, the number of OT receptors in the brain increases dramatically and the mother becomes highly responsive to the presence of this hormone. The physical act of labor causes a surge in this bonding hormone. Similarly, passage through the birth canal further heightens OT levels in mom and baby .
Live-in fathers’ OT levels rise towards the end of his partner’s pregnancy. When a father spends significant amounts of time in contact with his baby, OT encourages him to become more involved in the ongoing care of the infant. A recent study by Dr. Ruth Feldman and Arthur I. Eidelman revealed 3 findings (measured at 6 weeks and 6 months postpartum):
* Fathers’ OT levels were not different from levels observed in mothers.
* There’s a relationship between OT levels in partners.
* OT levels are associated with parent-specific styles of interaction. It is higher in mothers who provided more affectionate parenting such as more gazing at the infant, expression of positive effect, and affectionate touch. In fathers, oxytocin was increased with more stimulatory contact, encouragement of exploration, and direction of infant attention to objects .
So, what does this mean? Keep loving! Be kind to those around you. Be affectionate with your loved ones. Encourage the release of oxytocin in you and others. Parents: snuggle, kiss, play with and talk to your baby!
1. Marsh, Jasmine. “Oxytocin: Hormone of Love.” Sept. 2010.
2. “Oxytocin and the Development of Parenting in Humans” appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 68, Issue 4 (August 15, 2010), published by Elsevier.
3. Palmer, Linda F. “Bonding Matters… The Chemistry of Attachment.” Nov. 2002. .
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