There’s new research out about how oxytocin, the hormone that is best known as the ‘love hormone,’ may mean that breastfeeding makes women happier, and may be an aid in helping prevent postpartum depression.
Researchers from Kyoto University and Azabu University in Japan released the results of a new study that found oxytocin levels in mothers correspond to their sensitivity to “happy and angry adults.”
What this means is that mothers with higher levels of oxytocin were more able to recognize positive and negative expressions on the faces of others, and less flat affect observation can lead to a happier state of mind.
Oxytocin is released when a mother nurses, as breastfeeding stimulates the production of oxytocin. The researchers supposed that aside from the other benefits of breastfeeding, the oxytocin produced as a mother nurses may help her be happier because she’s able to more clearly recognize and react to positive expressions in others and can buffer feelings of anxiety and stress–triggers for postpartum depression.
The researchers noted that previous studies garnered information based on administered oxytocin and not necessarily looked at the impact that naturally produced oxytocin had in a mother. Given intranasally, oxytocin has been shown to promote feelings of happiness, security, bonding and desire for physical affection.
But lead researcher Masako Myowa from the Department of Education at Kyoto University said that Intranasal oxytocin studies typically are inconsistent because the differences in endogenous oxytocin levels are often ignored since they fluctuate and are unique to each subject.
For this reason, the research team wanted to see how a mother’s natural oxytocin levels impacted her, and to do so, they looked specifically at how mothers reacted prior to and after they breastfed their babies.
The mothers of the study all had varying natural oxytocin levels, and they looked at how mothers viewed and reacted to human faces before and after.
They found that the different levels of oxytocin production in mothers was linked to their different reactions to adult faces that showed positive and negative expressions. Mothers with higher levels of oxytocin were more likely to recognize both positive and negative expressions–enhancing recognition of positive facial expressions while also reducing the recognition of negative ones. For nursing mothers, this could mean more happy interactions with others and lowered chances of baby blues of postpartum depression.
Aside from the benefits of breastfeeding for babies with regard to immunity and future health outcomes, the researchers believe having insight on how the oxytocin hormonal changes a woman has when she nurses could also even be a predeterminer to whether she is more likely to suffer baby blues or postpartum depression.
Myowa said their goal in this study and future research is to understand the perceptual and psychological changes mothers experience after they’ve given birth, and believes a mother’s natural level of oxytocin (produced also by hugging, cuddling, kissing, sexual intimacy and other forms of physical affection) is an essential factor in her postpartum experience.