Oxytocin – of course we know that hormone as the one that’s important during labor & childbirth and breastfeeding. It’s also called the “tend and befriend” hormone because it helps bonding and creates good feelings and relaxation. The more of this hormone you have, the more good feelings you have about those around you and with babies, the stronger the bond. That’s one of the reasons that mothers breastfeeding report increased bonding – all that oxytocin flowing helps with bonding.
This study that came out last month peaked my interest because it takes a look at the differences between mothers and fathers interacting with their infants and the impact on oxytocin.
It seems men and women have increases in oxytocin at different times, and that these seem to match the typical interactions with babies according to the adult’s gender. Women/mothers have a rise in oxytocin when they have high levels of affectionate contact with their babies – giving them lots of snuggly loving! Oxytocin doesn’t rise with low levels of affection, it has to be that full-on affection and touch. Men, on the other hand, have their rise in oxytocin with high levels of stimulatory contact – physically engaging with their babies, lifting them in the air, or playing with them while highly engaged.
What’s interesting to me is that both moms and dads naturally tend to do the kind of interaction that will increase oxytocin, with the moms snuggling up their babies and the dads being more physically active.
But it also has implications for parents who aren’t bonding well or who feel separation from their infants due to depression or extended NICU hospital stays for premature babies – the study suggests that just doing the kinds of activities with your child that increase the parental oxytocin may be helpful in increasing their feelings of bonding with their babies. Allowing for more of these interactions will strengthen bonds of parenting naturally, enhancing the bond with biological responses.
So to strengthen the bonds of parenting, men and women can do different things.
So, men, play with those babies! Women, snuggle them up!
Let the bonding begin!