Understanding The Amazing Chemistry Of The Mother-Child Bond

Understanding The Amazing Chemistry Of The Mother-Child Bond

If you're a mother, you're probably not surprised to learn that you can practically feel your child's every emotion—and now science can explain why! Scientists who conducted the research for a new study published in the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience utilized brain imaging to investigate the neural pathways of empathy in teenagers and their moms. Participants were asked to imagine themselves in an unpleasant circumstance and then a family member in the same position.


Mothers had "high-self overlap," which means that when they imagined their children in unpleasant situations, their brains reacted virtually identical to the discomfort they imagined themselves in. The findings validated what moms have traditionally said: "You can never realize how much I love you until you have your kid." Throughout their lives, this empathy towards the child stems from an evolutionary maternal inclination for selective and protective care for their children. According to a psychologist, a mother's empathy supports beneficial developmental outcomes, such as mood stability and controlled stress reactivity in growing adolescents. Instincts can offer all the proper reactions to hormonal stimuli. Parents will naturally follow their neurons and hormones' instructions, caring for their newborns and keeping them physically nearby. Continue reading to understand how the chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine, opioids, and others help establish the mother and child bond.


1. Oxytocin and Bonding



Oxytocin is a chemical messenger released in the brain primarily due to social contact, such as skin-to-skin contact. Additionally, it offers many advantages, fostering feelings of trust and intimacy. The number of oxytocin receptors in the pregnant mother's brain rises substantially after pregnancy, owing to the high amounts of estrogen (female hormone) throughout pregnancy. As a result, the new mother is extremely sensitive to the presence of oxytocin. These receptors become more active in the area of her brain that supports maternal behavior.


The first significant spike of oxytocin occurs during childbirth and nursing. These activities allow mothers to form a strong bond with their children. It is understandable in light of the intimacy of the relationship. Oxytocin is critical to developing interpersonal relationships and enhancing communication between individuals. For this reason, researchers believe that an individual must be hugged ideally eight times a day to produce oxytocin and create a feeling of being loved and trusted. Therefore, it is also called the "cuddle hormone."


The hormone oxytocin, when released, also allows babies and mothers to recognize each other's distinct aroma. A mother and the baby begin to bond in a few minutes following birth. A newborn is stimulated by oxytocin to seek out and latch on to its mother's breast, and during breastfeeding, a spike in the hormone in the mother's body is noted. An increase in oxytocin levels during pregnancy may encourage moms to engage in more maternal activities after childbirth. Bonding behaviors have been noted, such as singing specific songs and especially washing a newborn. If moms' oxytocin levels were high during all three trimesters, they might check on their infant more frequently.


2. Prolactin and Behavior


During sleep, all healthy people produce prolactin, which aids in the maintenance of reproductive organs and immunological function. Prolactin is secreted by the mother in response to suckling, boosting milk production and maternal behaviors. Prolactin relaxes the mother and causes weariness during a nursing session in the early months, so she has no strong urge to do other things.


Prolactin encourages caregiver behaviors and, over time, causes brain remodeling to favor them. Prolactin surges are associated with stress levels in children and non-parents; hence, they are often regarded as a stress hormone. It acts as a parenting hormone in parents. The elevated level of prolactin in both the nursing mother and the involved father produces a decrease in testosterone levels, which decreases their libidos (but not their sexual functioning). 


This decrease in sexual activity and fertility is entirely intentional for the baby's sake, providing enough parental attention and energy. When the father is deeply involved with the infant alongside the mother, there should be some agreement between the two wishes. Oxytocin and other hormones provide for increased bonding and non-sexual interest in each other, which assists in keeping a second committed carer for the infant.


3. Opioids and Reward



Opioids are morphine-like substances that are produced naturally in our bodies. They diminish pain perception while eliciting emotions of joy. They are released on social encounters, including touch—particularly between parent and child— resulting in positive sensations that strengthen bonding. As a result of opioid release during pleasurable encounters, odor, taste, activity, and even geographical preferences can emerge, and eventually, the sight of a loved one's face triggers surges. Opioids generated in a child's brain as a conditioned reaction to a parent's loving embraces and kisses can help alleviate the pain of a fall or disappointment.


As a result of the opioid release, parents "learn" to like beneficial behaviors such as nursing and holding. In contrast, babies "learn" to appreciate touch, such as being held, carried, and rocked. Babies want milk, and opioids are nature's reward for acquiring it, especially in the early stages. The first few sucking experiences in the newborn baby’s brain arrange neuronal connections, training her to repeat this behavior. Breastfed newborns might struggle if given bottles in the infant nursery—early exposure to bottles produces a muddled link of pleasure with both bottle nipples and the mother's breast. 


Any non-noxious sensations encountered when rocking, caressing, or feeding can form a part of a mother-child bond and bring comfort. It may be the warmth of a mother's body, a father's hairy chest, a blanket, or the wood-slatted side. Prolonged prolactin elevation activates the opioid system in parents, perhaps elevating the rewards for close, loving family bonds above everything others. Tolerance to natural opioids, like codeine and morphine can decrease the reward level for varied activities over time. 


It explains why it is difficult for a child to stay physically away from her mother early on but not from the father. When there is a potent opioid bonding, separation can be emotionally painful and, in the newborn, perhaps physically uncomfortable as opioid levels in the brain decline, similar to withdrawal symptoms from cocaine or heroin. When opioid levels drop, one may feel like going home to cuddle the infant or sobbing for a parent's loving embrace. Alternate actions can be beneficial at times. Thumb-sucking, for example, can give some comfort from partial or whole withdrawal from a human or rubber nipple and can even generate opioid-produced reminiscences for a short period.


4. Norepinephrine and Learning


Breastfeeding also induces dopamine production and its by-product, norepinephrine (adrenaline), which helps retain some of the effects of early bonding. They increase energy and alertness while also providing part of the joy of connection. Norepinephrine aids in the organization of the infant's stress regulation system and other vital hormonal controls based on the type of the infant's early raising experiences. It encourages environmental learning, particularly learning by memorizing, which is aided by oxytocin, opioids, and other hormonal impacts.


5. Pheromones and Natural Instincts


Pheromones are steroid hormones produced in our skin. When we perceive these pheromones around us, our bodies are instinctively wired to react accordingly. Pheromones affect newborns much more than adults. The early imprinting of a baby to scents and pheromones is not simply a question of liking the parents' odors. Still, it is a means for nature to manage brain organization and hormone releases to best adapt the kid to its surroundings. The most rudimentary experiences of a baby are then related to higher capacities such as facial and emotional identification. Through this, the infant is most likely learning how to assess the degree of stress in the caregivers around her, such as whether the mother is fearful or joyful.


The loss of parental signs regarding the safety of her environment may contribute to an infant's anguish over separation. Of course, touch is another basic feeling that a child responds to well, and body scents and pheromones can only be detected when individuals are physically close to each other.



When infants are left alone, they almost always scream. When we allow ourselves to listen, our neurons and hormones push us to respond appropriately. Babies are designed to be fed frequently, requiring skin-to-skin contact, holding, and available facial cues. Beneficial, long-term brain changes occur in both the parent and the child due to such behaviors. When cues are heeded, contented mother behaviors develop. Frequent contact and exchange of loving touch between the baby and the parents can result in solid mother-child bonding, with numerous long-term benefits.

Unfortunately, industry-educated "experts" have urged parents to disregard their every instinct to respond to their baby's vital parenting techniques during the last century. The scientists have now confirmed what many of us already suspected: many of the benefits of parenthood have been overlooked, and generations of children may have missed out on critical lifelong benefits. However, use our ParentalMastery.com to help you keep updated with the latest scientific knowledge and have happy parenting throughout. 

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