Research has shown that massage therapy promotes the body’s release of oxytocin, a “feel good” hormone known for its positive effects on well-being and relaxation. Oxytocin has also been found to contribute to the social bonding that occurs between lovers, friends, and colleagues.

New research shows that oxytocin also plays a role in the bonding between infants and their mothers and fathers. The hormone was already known to play a role in birth and maternal behavior; this new research is the first to study the involvement of oxytocin in the transition to fatherhood, according to a press release from Elsevier, which publishes the journal in which the research appears.

The researchers found that at both six weeks and six months after the birth of their first child, males presented with higher than usual oxytocin levels, just as their female partners, whose oxytocin levels were raised by birth and lactation. So although oxytocin release is stimulated by birth and lactation in mothers, it appears that other aspects of parenthood serve to stimulate oxytocin release in fathers.

Oxytocin was higher in mothers who provided more affectionate parenting, such as more gazing at the infant, expression of positive affect, and affectionate touch. In fathers, oxytocin was increased with more stimulatory contact, encouragement of exploration, and direction of infant attention to objects.

Corresponding author Dr. Ruth Feldman noted that this finding “emphasizes the importance of providing opportunities for father-infant interactions immediately after childbirth in order to trigger the neuro-hormonal system that underlies bond formation in humans.”

“Oxytocin and the Development of Parenting in Humans” appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 68, Issue 4 (August 15, 2010), published by Elsevier.

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