Are you having an oxytocin moment?

Mother with newborn baby

The Aussies are at it again with this systematic review which examines the role of oxytocin in mother-infant relations, attachment, and bonding in humans.

Oxytocin plays an important role in the reproductive life of mammals. The hormone facilitates nest building and pup retrieval in rats, acceptance of offspring in sheep, and the formation of adult pair-bonds in prairie voles.

Research in humans is more limited, but we know that oxytocin stimulates milk ejection during lactation, uterine contraction during birth, and is released during sexual orgasm in both men and women.

This systematic review only found 8 studies, all of which were unique in their methodologies, populations studied, and measures used. Seven studies found significant and strong associations between levels or patterns of oxytocin and aspects of mother-infant relations or attachment.

Here’s what the research team from Melbourne University concluded:

Oxytocin appears to be of crucial importance for understanding mother-infant relationships. The findings of this review suggest that the pioneering, but preliminary, research undertaken to date is promising and that replication with larger samples is needed.

Research that draws on more robust measures of attachment and bonding, as well as improved measures of oxytocin that include both central and peripheral levels, will elucidate the role of oxytocin in human mother-infant relationships.

As the production of oxytocin is by no means restricted to mothers, the extension of the oxytocin studies to fathering, as well as to alloparental caregiving, would be an intriguing next step.

Galbally M, Lewis AJ, Ijzendoorn M, Permezel M. The role of oxytocin in mother-infant relations: a systematic review of human studies. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2011 Jan-Feb;19(1):1-14. [PubMed abstract]

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Andre Tomlin

Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol with his wife, dog and three little elflings.

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