Oxytocin, Vasopressin, Prolactin, and More: The Chemistry of Attachment

We at Bellamins are constantly amazed as science reveals the intricacies involved in creating and nurturing a new human life. We’re fascinated by the information in articles like The Chemistry of Attachment (theattachedfamily.com), which discusses some of the neural and hormonal interactions between babies and their parents that help create the bond that is essential for babies’ wellbeing.

Many are familiar with oxytocin as the hormone responsible for contractions and for milk production. But did you know that oxytocin also causes a mother to recognize and prefer the odor of her baby? Or that fathers, too, experience higher oxytocin levels when their partners are pregnant and when they are in contact with their infant?

Less familiar than oxytocin is vasopressin. This hormone plays a bigger role in fathers, promoting bonding and protective behavior between the father and mother and between father and baby. It also tempers testosterone, reducing aggression and libido.

Another hormone that promotes nurturing behaviors in both mothers and fathers is prolactin. Interestingly, in children and non-parents prolactin is considered a stress hormone (in addition to being naturally released during sleep). In parents, however, it promotes caregiving and may also contribute to enhanced bonding between the parents — but reduced libido, encouraging parental attention and energy by reducing the likelihood of closely-spaced siblings.

Other naturally-produced chemicals discussed in the article are opiods, which help parents enjoy nurturing and babies enjoy being nurtured; norepinephrine, which helps organize babies’ stress control systems; and pheromones, which are like a nonverbal communication system between mother, father, and baby to facilitate the work of all the other chemicals.

All this science leads to a conclusion urging parents to heed their instinctive wisdom: “If we allow ourselves to listen, our neurons and hormones encourage us in the proper response [to our babies].” We couldn’t agree more!

Bellamins: Prenatal Vitamins for Each Trimester