Laura’s Psychology Blog

One Professor’s Observations of the World of Psychology….   

October 18, 2007

Maternal love and oxytocin….

Filed under: Biological Psychology,General Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 11:48 am

Okay, now I’m moving from my foodie thread to a mommy thread, but I couldn’t pass up commenting on recent research by Ruth Feldman of Bar Ilan University in Israel [1]. Feldman measured oxytocin levels in pregnant women during their first and third trimesters, and then again in their first post-partum month. These oxytocin levels were correlated with evidence of mother-infant bonding, such as how much the mother gazed at her infant, used “motherese” to speak to her infant, and maintained constant and affectionate touching.

Oxytocin is a multi-purpose hormone that is also released during orgasm or nursing an infant.

Feldman’s first-trimester oxytocin levels were highly predictive of maternal bonding behaviors. In addition, mothers with high oxytocin levels were more likely to sing “special songs” to their infant, check on their infant frequently, and think frequently about the infant’s safety and future.

A great deal of research in animals, especially species of voles, shows that oxytocin is an important hormone for both pair bonding and parenting behaviors, but Feldman’s study extends this body of knowledge to humans.

One has to wonder about the implications of such a study. Do we check oxytocin levels during a first trimester and try to intervene with those who are “low” in order to avoid later child abuse? Why does one woman have more oxytocin than another? Do the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy (planned versus accidental; stable, loving partnership or not) influence her oxytocin levels?

On a related note, anthropologists have pointed out that holding a child on the left side of the body is a human universal [2]. This seems to have a calming effect, because the baby can hear the mother’s heartbeat. It’s interesting to see how frequently celebrity moms don’t do this….should we measure oxytocin levels?

1. Feldman, R. (2007). Evidence for a neuroendocrinological foundation of human affiliation: Plasma oxytocin levels across pregnancy and the postpartum period predict mother-infant bonding. Psychological Science [epub ahead of print]. For a copy, contact Catherine West of APS at cwest@psychologicalscience.org

2. Bolton, R. (1978). Child-holding patterns. Current Anthropology, 19, 134-135.

6 Responses to “Maternal love and oxytocin….”

  1. mjblume Says:

    I’ve read about oxytocin being released during orgasm, child birth, and bodily contact in general. I have not read much about oxytocin levels in men, however. I believe that men release the oxytocin hormone during orgasm as well (however, at lower levels), but has there been any other studies done?

  2. Laura Freberg Says:

    Try these:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17888410&ordinalpos=5&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17725969&ordinalpos=11&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=17716675&ordinalpos=12&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

  3. Dianawagen Says:

    I think that measuring their oxytocin levels should only be tested if the mother requests or atleast gives permission. I would be very uncomfortable with a stranger judging me and maybe miss using that information later what if they used that against you in court and took your child away when somone falsley accused you of child abuse! What if you adopted your child and they use the oxytocin level as weather or not your bonded to your child, What about dads bond. Is it not as strong then? I dont think so, I think all of the behaviors and quality interactions and healthy environment is way more important.

  4. Laura Freberg Says:

    Good points, Diana. As I’ve said so many times in class, the researchers who are putting forward these new technologies generally leave the job of figuring out how to use them to others. As college grads, you and your peers will play an important role in community discussions of privacy relative to the new neuroscience technologies.

  5. jsaqqa Says:

    I agree with Diana because I believe that oxytocin levels should not be the only indicator to dictate if someone will be a good parent or not. There are too many other variables that play into the role of being a parent that the oxytocin levels cannot show. As an individual if the I had the choice to find out my oxytocin levels I would not be interested.

  6. jsaqqa Says:

    I agree with Diana because I believe that oxytocin levels should not be the only indicator to dictate if someone will be a good parent or not. There are too many other variables that play into the role of being a parent that the oxytocin levels cannot show. As an individual if the I had the choice to find out my oxytocin levels I would not be interested.

 

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that makes unhappy marriages
-------- Nietzsche



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