Use Your Hormones to Become a Better Mother

Laura Markham's picture

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Why are some women better mothers than others? Turns out that some women have more "love" hormones than others. Oxytocin is one of the key maternal hormones, but it doesn't just make women more maternal, it makes them more loving in general.

Scientists have long known that animals with less oxytocin exhibit slower pup retrieval and less licking and grooming of their babes, but not much research has been done on human mothering and oxytocin until now.

The latest results are fascinating. Researchers have found that women's oxytocin levels during their first trimester of pregnancy predict their bonding behavior with their babies during the first month after birth. Additionally, mothers who had higher levels of oxytocin across the pregnancy as well as the postpartum month also reported more behaviors that create a close relationship, such as singing a special song to their baby, bathing and feeding them in a special way, or thinking about them more. Quite simply, the more oxytocin you have, the more loving and attentive you are to your baby.

Here's the obvious question. If you don't have high oxytocin levels in your first trimester, are you just fated to be a lousy mother, and your kids are out of luck? Or are there ways for us to increase our oxytocin levels?

The bad news is that we can't just take oxytocin pills to increase blood levels because oxytocin doesn't cross the body's "blood/brain barrier," except in the form of nasal sprays (and long-term use of oxytocin spray can damage your brain).

The good news is that our brain's production of oxytocin is actually easily impacted. We can all raise our oxytocin levels, every day. Some activities that will help you produce more oxytocin:

  • Meditation
  • Connecting deeply with another human being
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Massage
  • Worshiping
  • Loving a pet
  • Participating in a group that you enjoy
  • Engaging in loving sex
  • Singing
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Volunteering
  • Loving your baby...

You could probably add to this list with your own favorite, replenishing activities. Highest on the list would be loving connections with intimate others, from partners to children to friends. Quite simply, we produce oxytocin when we feel love.

And for new moms who wonder about their oxytocin levels: the single best way to increase your oxytocin is to breastfeed your baby. Not only do your blood levels increase, but your body makes more receptors, permanently increasing your feelings of love -- and your ability to feel loved.

Because the even better news is that the more oxytocin we produce, the more oxytocin receptors our nervous system produces. As the Beatles said, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Dr. Laura Markham