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August 2011

Oxytocin Part of Mother's Bravery

We know oxytocin creates the bond between mother and child. It also lets her overcome fear and defend her child.

When you're in danger, your heart rate speeds up. You sometimes freeze in fear. Researchers at the University of Lausanne found that separate brain circuits control these reactions. When oxytocin is high, for example, when a woman is breastfeeding, fear still makes the heart race but doesn't cause that deer in the headlights reaction. Note, the study was in rats.

"In a danger situation, you may want to maintain a fearful feeling but not be totally immobilized," said study researcher Ron Stoop, who researches psychiatric neuroscience at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. For example, if a predator attacks, a mother may need to fight to protect her offspring, he said.