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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Sep;35(8):1133-41. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.01.013. Epub 2010 Feb 12.

Natural variations in maternal and paternal care are associated with systematic changes in oxytocin following parent-infant contact.

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Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel.


Animal studies have demonstrated that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) plays a critical role in processes of parent-infant bonding through mechanisms of early parental care, particularly maternal grooming and contact. Yet, the involvement of OT in human parenting remains poorly understood, no data are available on the role of OT in the development of human fathering, and the links between patterns of parental care and the OT response have not been explored in humans. One hundred and twelve mothers and fathers engaged in a 15-min play-and-contact interaction with their 4-6-month-old infants and interactions were micro-coded for patterns of parental touch. Results showed that baseline levels of plasma and salivary OT in mothers and fathers were similar, OT levels in plasma and saliva were inter-related, and OT was associated with the parent-specific mode of tactile contact. Human mothers who provided high levels of affectionate contact showed an OT increase following mother-infant interaction but such increase was not observed among mothers displaying low levels of affectionate contact. Among fathers, only those exhibiting high levels of stimulatory contact showed an OT increase. These results demonstrate consistency in the neuroendocrine basis of human parental interactions with those seen in other mammals. The findings underscore the need to provide opportunities for paternal care to trigger the biological basis of fatherhood and suggest that interventions that permit social engagement may be recommended in conditions of diminished maternal-infant contact, such as prematurity or postpartum depression.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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