- September 15, 2020
- Rai Cornell
- Posted in Resources
Shortly after you give birth, your doctor will place your baby against your chest. This moment of skin-to-skin contact is important — and often overwhelming — for both mom and baby. Feeling your touch and hearing your voice calms your baby and makes him feel safe. During this skin-to-skin moment, your body releases oxytocin.
Oxytocin — sometimes called the cuddle hormone — is a hormone released during pregnancy and at birth. Many experts believe oxytocin correlates with the attachment a mom has with her baby.
As a new or expectant mother, this may be the first time you’re hearing about oxytocin. Here’s what you need to know about the role oxytocin plays during the exciting journey to motherhood.
What Is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a strong hormone that acts as a chemical messenger in the brain. The hormone is released into the bloodstream after being created in the hypothalamus. Contractions, breast milk release, and reproduction itself all involve oxytocin.
More in-depth research has been conducted about the effects of oxytocin in animals than in humans. Scientists have concluded animals with high levels of oxytocin tend to be more nurturing to their offspring than those with lower levels.
Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone and bonding hormone. The nicknames are fitting as oxytocin helps strengthen the bond between mammals — especially mothers and their babies. Oxytocin prepares expectant mothers for their journey with their baby outside the womb.
The Bond Between Mom & Baby
Oxytocin works much the same in humans as it does in other mammals. When a doctor places a newborn on its mother’s chest in the moments after birth, oxytocin is released. The mother’s body temperature rises to create a warm, comforting place for the baby to snuggle. Skin-to-skin contact calms new babies and often helps them cry less.
Oxytocin released during skin-to-skin contact enables newborns and mothers to learn each other’s special scent. In these first moments after birth, a mom and baby begin to bond. Oxytocin causes a newborn to seek out and latch on to its mother’s breast. The hormone floods the body during breastfeeding.
Higher levels of oxytocin throughout pregnancy may cause mothers to engage in more maternal behaviors after giving birth. Bonding practices, such as singing special songs and bathing an infant in a special way, have been observed. Moms may also check on their newborn more often if their oxytocin levels were high during all three trimesters.
Moms and babies aren’t the only ones affected by oxytocin. The hormone affects dads, too. According to an article in Current Opinion in Psychology, mothers and caregiving fathers had the same levels of oxytocin during the first few months of their baby’s life. New dads, it turns out, can emit the same amount of the love hormone that moms can.
Oxytocin During Pregnancy
In recent years, scientists have begun to conduct further research on the effects of oxytocin in humans. According to a study by Ruth Feldman, expectant mothers with a high level of the hormone during the first trimester of their pregnancy engaged more naturally in bonding behaviors with their babies after birth.
Oxytocin levels play an important role in a woman’s body throughout her pregnancy. During the first trimester, increased oxytocin levels affect metabolism and help a woman gain weight. These energy stores come in handy later on during times of rapid fetal growth.
During the third trimester, oxytocin makes pregnant women act more carefully. Heightened caution is nature’s way of helping an expectant mother protect herself and her baby.
When labor begins, oxytocin is responsible for causing contractions. After the baby is born, the hormone lowers a new mom’s stress levels and helps her relax. In fact, oxytocin may even help women forget about the pain of childbirth.
Oxytocin is a powerful and important hormone during pregnancy and after childbirth. Expectant moms may not fully feel or understand the hormones affects before giving birth. However, they are sure to feel the rush of oxytocin during their first moments holding their newborn skin-to-skin when the bond between mom and baby begins.
Have you noticed the effects of oxytocin during your pregnancy or after giving birth? Tell us about your experience bonding with your newborn in the comments below!
- Association for Psychological Science. (2007). Level of Oxytocin in Pregnant Women Predicts Mother-Child Bond. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/level-of-oxytocin-in-pregnant-women-predicts-mother-child-bond.html
- Britt, R. R. (2007). Love Hormone Improves Mother-Child Bond. LiveScience. https://www.livescience.com/1955-love-hormone-improves-mother-child-bond.html
- Feldman, R. & Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J. (2017). Oxytocin: A Parenting Hormone. Current Opinion in Psychology, (15), 13–18. https://ruthfeldmanlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/oxytocin.-a-parenting-hormone.2017.pdf
- Magon, N. & Kalra, S. (2011). The Orgasmic History of Oxytocin: Love, Lust, and Labor. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 15(Suppl3), S156–S161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3183515/
- Psychology Today. (n.d.). Oxytocin. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/oxytocin
- Sunshine, P. (2015). Give ’Em Some Skin. Healthier Haprpy Lives, a Stanford Children’s Health Magazine. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/content-public/pdf/magazine/give-em-some-skin.pdf
- Uvnas-Moberg, K. (n.d.). 10 Amazing Facts About Oxytocin (AKA the Pregnancy Love Hormone). Mother & Baby. https://www.motherandbaby.co.uk/pregnancy-and-birth/pregnancy/pregnancy-health-conditions-explained/what-is-oxytocin-hormone
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