Oxytocin and Parenthood

being-a-parentOxytocin is often referred to as the “trust hormone” but it is also a brain chemical that does a lot more than just bring couples closer together – it’s an indispensable part of childbirth and parent-child bonding.  Oxytocin helps women get through labor by stimulating uterine contractions.  After birth, mothers establish intimacy and trust with their baby through gentle touches and loving gazes.  In addition, mothers can pass on oxytocin to their babies through breast milk.

This bonding hormone works proficiently in mom, dad, and baby.  The mother will get a large dose of oxytocin near the end of the pregnancy as well as during labor and child birth.  When she attempts to breast feed her baby soon after delivery, oxytocin helps the ‘let down reflex’ which assists in beginning to nurse.  It also familiarizes her with her baby’s unique odor, especially during cuddling with the baby.

Oxytocin works in the mother’s brain to promote her maternal behaviors and aids her to be more caring, more sensitive to other’s feelings, and to recognize non-verbal cues more readily.  These particular characteristics make her a better mother to a baby who cannot yet communicate verbally.  It also has stress-reducing effects on her blood pressure and pulse, which are much needed after the physical stress of child birth.

In the father, oxytocin increases his interest in physical, rather than sexual, contact with the mother.  This hormone makes the dad become devoted to his family.  He also gets the benefit of oxytocin surges in the mom by just being with her when she has oxytocin surges which causes her to prefer him over all other men.  The dad will also get a surge of oxytocin during the times while touching, holding, and playing with his newborn.

In the baby, oxytocin helps connect the smell of the amniotic fluid to the mom’s breasts and milk.  This creates a strong bond in the developing brain of the baby.  Studies have shown that babies prefer their own mother’s scent and milk to formula in the first few weeks of life. Oxytocin calms the baby and permanently reorganizes the baby’s brain to deal with stress. The baby gets large doses of oxytocin when he/she smells the mom, her breasts, her milk and with skin-to-skin contact.  Oxytocin really is the chemical of connection.  The whole family benefit from many opportunities to touch skin-to-skin, cuddle, play, caress, and look into each other’s eyes.

Oxytocin is also referred to as the “love molecule” typically associated with helping couples establish a greater sense of intimacy.  Along with dopamine and norepinephrine, oxytocin is believed to be highly critical in human pair-bonding.  But not only that, it also increases the desire for couples to gaze at one another and creates sexual arousal, in which oxytocin levels increase in the brain significantly.

Increasing Oxytocin Levels  

Hugs – “Hugging releases oxytocin.” – Professor Dr. Paul Zak

Eye contact – Train yourself to make eye contact.  With so many distractions in this world today,  if you learn to give your full attention, you will pick up on many queues that you would not get it you were not fully present.

Meditation – Mediation is a powerful oxytocin release.  Meditating in a group will also increase the release of oxytocin.

Dr. Zak, a recognized expert in oxytocin, discovered in 2004 that this chemical in our brains allows us to determine who to trust.  This knowledge helps us to understand the progress of our modern civilization.

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