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Georgian Med News. 2010 Dec;(189):21-6.

Neuroendocrine foundation of maternal-child attachment.

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M. Guramishvili Pediatric Clinic, Tbilisi, Georgia.


Attachment between mother and child is the unique and complex type of relationship that ensures safety and nurturing of a child in the beginning and effective functioning and ability to establish relationships later on. Maternal behavior is generally known to be influenced by multiple psychosocial factors. However they often fail to explain the deviations in maternal behavior that emphasizes the importance and necessity of investigating involved physiological mechanisms. Series of the studies performed in animal models demonstrated that decline in progesterone level on the background of increasing estradiol concentration prepares brain for the action of progesterone and prolactin that are responsible for the rapid onset of maternal behavior postpartum. However the results of another group of researchers failed to prove the unique importance of oxytocin. Other substances such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin were also suggested though diversity in the study results interferes with making definitive conclusions. Preliminary studies suggest that hormones are also involved in induction of maternal behavior in primate and human beings. Level of oxytocin appeared to be highest during first hours after parturition and is stimulated by a newborn suckling activities and newborn touching the breast. Lower rates of anxiety and aggression and higher rates of social behavior was demonstrated in mothers having received intrapartum oxytocin infusion. However other components of maternal behavior have not been studied in these women. Controversial results have been published concerning the importance of cortisol. A group of researchers demonstrated that mothers with higher cortisol levels were less caring and more aggressive towards their offspring though according to another group of researchers higher level of cortisol is associated with increased alertness of mother towards smell and sounds produced by a child. The literature review revealed that the number of conducted studies is large though limited to animal models, controversial and insufficient to describe the biological foundation of maternal behavior in human. Thus great deal of investigations should be done to study the biological foundation of maternal behavior induction and maintenance, mechanisms of hormonal action and correlation between the biological and non-biological, namely psycho-social factors. New discoveries in this field will greatly contribute to child global development as it provides clues to the improvement of maternal-child attachment.

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