How Does Oxytocin Impact Mother-Child Bonding?

A new study examines the impact of oxytocin levels on mother-child bonding, and what it might mean for baby’s healthy development.

Recent research regarding maternal mental health has prompted health care experts to consider that postpartum depression likely begins during pregnancy, and not after.

While the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an influential government heath panel, now recommends that pregnant women be screened both during and after pregnancy, the factors contributing to postpartum depression, and its impact on a developing newborn, are still not entirely understood.

New research currently being conducted by psychologists at Florida Atlantic University considers, “how breast feeding, oxytocin and face-to-face interactions between a mother and her baby are impacted by depression and the mother’s oxytocin levels.

It’s commonly understood that oxytocin — a hormone with anti-depressive effects — increases during pregnancy and is also released during breastfeeding. Is this different for mothers who already suffer from depression? How does it impact the child? Nancy Aaron Jones, Ph.D. of FAU explains the various aspects of the new study:

…we are looking at oxytocin levels in pre- and postpartum mothers who suffer from depression to see how they differ from mothers who don’t have depression. Another novel aspect of the study is that we also are examining the oxytocin levels of the infant once they are born and how these levels change across development.

Why is this significant?

We are really trying to understand how these varying levels of oxytocin affect the mother-infant emotional relationship as well as the baby’s emotional development and their emotional bond with their mother. 

Jones continues,

In our previous studies on breast feeding versus bottle feeding and depression, we found similar patterns of brain asymmetry in the baby and the mother. What appears to be happening is that these babies are either inheriting or developing a pattern that is similar to their mother’s depression. They focus on the negative emotions and withdraw from stimuli as if they are withdrawing from the world.

The importance of the study lies not only in understanding which factors impact the mental health of the mother, but also the healthy development of the child.

If depression in mothers-to-be is not addressed and treated, these mood disorders can negatively impact the child’s well-being and the important mother-child bonding process.

Source: Newswise via Florida Atlantic Newsroom