Breastfeeding, Oxytocin and the Mother-Child Bond

ThBreastfeeding, Oxytocin and the Mother-Child Bonde bond between a mother and her child is one unlike any on earth and it’s deep-rooted in biology. Some may call it motherly instinct but it’s actually related to the hormones a mother releases during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond. Oxytocin is a major player in the mother-child bond and it is also a key ingredient in producing breast milk. Join us as we explore breastfeeding, oxytocin and the mother-child bond.

Oxytocin is a hormone best known for its contribution to feelings of love and bonding. Beyond breastfeeding and baby bonding, oxytocin is also elevated in other loving, intimate relationships such as those with a spouse, close friends or family members.

Oxytocin is present throughout pregnancy and is what triggers the onset of labor. Pitocin, a drug used to induce labor, is synthetic oxytocin. Then, after childbirth oxytocin helps kick-start the milk production process.

In a study from Bar-Ilan University in Israel published in Psychological Science researchers discovered several interesting findings about oxytocin and the mother-child bond. They found that mothers with the highest levels of oxytocin throughout pregnancy and in the first month postpartum were generally more loving towards their babies. This was especially true of the mothers with high oxytocin levels in their first trimester of pregnancy.

As defined by this study, loving behaviors included mothers who had a special level of attachment to their baby. Researchers observed the way mothers touched, gazed, sang and spoke to their babies as well as how they performed certain motherly duties such as feeding and bathing them. Loving behavior also included protecting the child and concerns for the baby’s safety and welfare.

This fascinating research on oxytocin illuminates the complex evolutionary mother-child bond. But it also begs the question, how does a mother stimulate oxytocin to help create this natural bond? The amazing news is that oxytocin can be fueled in a variety of ways…and the best way is breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding triggers many hormonal responses, one of which is the release of oxytocin that not only helps produce breast milk, but also bonds a mother to her baby. Additionally, making connections with others – a spouse, children, friends, family – elevates oxytocin. Other ways to stimulate oxytocin include: prayer, meditation, engaging in a hobby, having a pet, dancing, sexual intercourse, participating in a group and singing.

Nurturing your baby may be second nature to you thanks to oxytocin. You can continue to foster your mother-child bond by elevating your oxytocin levels through meaningful connections, finding joy in life and breastfeeding.

Sources: Aha! Parenting, Parents Magazine and Psychological Science