We all know the phrase: love works in mysterious ways. As humans, we are created to love and as it turns out, love is necessary for both positive physical and emotional development. And to be honest, nothing feels better than giving your child a warm hug at every moment possible. So, if you’re that kind of parent who can’t keep their arms off their children, then don’t stop – your kids will thank you for it one day.
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and hormone that is produced by the hypothalamus and secreted by the pituitary gland. This hormone is essential in the process of childbirth, stimulating uterine contractions and lactation. But, studies found that its role is much deeper and far-reaching one that affects social interaction and bonding between people. That’s why scientists call it “the love hormone”
As Psychology Today reports “…As a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, the hormone fosters distinctions between in-group and out-group members, and sets in motion favoritism toward in-group members and prejudice against those in out-groups. Ongoing research on the hormone is a potent reminder of the complexity of biological and psychological systems.“
Oxytocin is present in both sexes, stimulating all aspects of the reproductive process, beginning with trust and sexual arousal. It stimulates reward centers and pleasure and is the neurological basis for social bonding, especially the people closest to you. Oxytocin also increases feelings of trust, which are essential to all close personal relationship.
Moreover, oxytocin is essential for embryonic brain development. More specifically, it plays a role in blood vessel formation in the pituitary gland, which controls several physiological processes such as reproduction, growth, and stress.
Importance of parental bonding
Secure attachments between people require trust. With this as a base, we are more able to deal with stress and avoid destructive addictive behaviors. This complex process starts with the bonding between the child and parents. The brain synthesizes high levels of oxytocin to stimulate labor during pregnancy. After birth, oxytocin is even higher in infants than in mothers.
Additionally, in combination with prolactin, oxytocin stimulates milk production for breastfeeding. The levels stay high for mother and baby for as long as the baby nurses.
The chemical reaction that follows is nothing short of amazing:
“Through three different release pathways, oxytocin functions rather like a system activator and often influences the release of other signaling substances such as opioids, serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Through these activations, different behavioral and physiological effects are facilitated and coordinated into adaptive patterns, which are influenced by the type of stimuli and environmental factors.”
“Oxytocin can be released by activation of several types of sensory nerves (including in the skin)…Light pressure, warmth and stroking contribute to oxytocin release caused by ‘pleasant’ or ‘non-noxious’ sensory stimulation of the skin.”
Instinctual parent-child bond
One study of oxytocin in parents with infants discovered that levels increase where there was a positive interaction with their babies. In addition, increased oxytocin was found in parents who enjoyed a positive close relationship with their partners and their own parents, suggesting that we pass on the love hormone through positive social interaction.
Interestingly, decreased oxytocin levels in the urine of mothers stressed by parenting and negative interaction with their infants were noted.
Oxytocin can’t be replaced
Oxytocin release during pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, sexual activity, and onward directly correlates to the ability to trust and form a meaningful relationship. Once a baby is weaned from her∕his mother, the brain creates oxytocin as the result of affectionate touch. Healthy personal interactions also stimulate hormone release. Hugging your child is the most natural instinct a parent has because it feels good for the both of you.
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