A Mother’s Superpower: Increased Levels of the Hormone Oxytocin

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate the women in our lives who have taught us how to be strong, kind, and loving. To give mothers a boost in the strong, kind, and loving department, the body produces an increase in the hormone, oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone and neuropeptide that holds a significant role in inducing labor, lactation, and care-giving behaviors in mammals. How oxytocin influences the perception of faces, emotions, and other social information has been widely studied, and in a recent study, through the administration of nasal spray.

The new study from the University of Tampere in Finland found that when oxytocin nasal spray is administered in mothers of 1-year-old infants, the brain showed strengthened brain responses to pictures of infants.

The goal of the study was to explore whether the effects of the hormone were more pronounced in response to infant faces, given that oxytocin is key to early care-giving behaviors.

The 52 Finnish participants made two separate visits to the lab where the researchers used electroencephalography (EEG), monitoring method to record electrical activity of the brain, to measure the mother’s neural responses to infant and adult faces. In this double-blind study, the mothers were administered either a placebo or the nasal spray before each measurement.

The results showed that the hormone laced nasal spray increased the areas of the brain that are sensitive to faces. However, the results did not clearly show whether the effects of oxytocin were larger in response to infant faces than to adult faces.

“In the future, it will be important to conduct research with larger samples in order to determine whether oxytocin specifically affects sensitivity to infant signals because that is one of the key aspects of parenting,” says Professor Kaija Puura from the University of Tampere and Tampere University Hospital.

Oxytocin plays an important role in processing social information and maintaining social bonds. It has been suggested by some researchers that the hormone could be used to overcome problems in early parent-infant interaction.

The results were published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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