Feel Bad? Phone Mom

But only if you love her...

Twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls who had phone calls with their mothers had an oxytocin response that counteracted stress.

The research, by Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, included only girls who reported good relationships with their mothers. (For some people, talking on the phone to Mom is stressful in itself.)

Interestingly, instant messaging with mothers did not produce the oxytocin response in this study.

Earlier research by Seth Pollack, also of U of Wisconsin, found the same effect in girls seven to 12 years old.

If your relationship with your mother is rocky, you will likely get the same benefit by calling a good friend or other family member.

 


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.


Should a 5-Year-Old Learn to Breastfeed?

A new doll originating from Spain aims to teach girls how to breastfeed. The doll reacts to sensors in a halter worn by the kid, making sucking and gulping sounds when its mouth comes close to two "nipples."

Evidently this is creating controversy among parents, some of whom find it creepy or ... somehow .. just wrong.

Video on the company's website shows an actual baby sucking at an actual breast -- something usually relegated to the depths of breastfeeding education sites.

 

Jessica Wakeman of The Frisky said,

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the breastfeeding doll, per se; it just may be a bit too complex of a subject for a child who still watches “Dora The Explorer” and occasionally wets her pants.

Tom Henderson of ParentDish shows just how deep the discomfort with breastfeeding can run. He snarks:

Are you one of these people who find yourself ever-so creeped out by the sight of a woman breast-feeding her baby in public?

Oh, you ain't see nothing yet.

Picture a 7-year-old girl -- or boy, for that matter -- strapping on little flowered falsies so a baby doll can suckle the imaginary breasts -- complete with slurping and gurgling sounds.

When I first read about Breast Milk Baby, I did feel a bit of disturb. I visualized a pair of plastic breasts like those hideous things they sell for Halloween costumes. When I saw the photos, I changed my mind.

The top is simple and girly, with little flowers instead of nipples.

Most of the anti-doll people quoted in news reports say it's making little girls grow up too soon -- even though pretending to do adult things, including feeding a doll with a bottle and playing dressup -- or playing soldier -- is one of the most common ways for kids to play.

I think these folks are really expressing their own over-sexualization of the breast, which is one of the biggest barriers to breastfeeding.


The Connection Continuum

I've officially nominated oxytocin as the God Molecule. If you look at our capacity for connection on a continuum, it can go from the womb, where we are connected to our birth mother, out and upward to the spiritual connection we may feel with things greater than ourselves.

I've described oxytocin's role along the Connection Continuum in an article for Vision magazine called A New Look at Orgasm. Please check it out.

 

 


Connection, Loss, Science and Mothering (Poem)

My friend Alan Phillips has written a poem that intertwines many of the things this blog is about -- love and attachment, labor and birth, mothering, oxytocin, connection.

It's a wonderful poem, and extra wonderful to me because it lets me see all these ideas and scientific studies in a different light.

Please check it out: Legend of My Birth.


Family Connection Boosts School Performance

We're beginning to understand more and more about how important early nurturing is for brain development. A secure home environment does more than build a baby's attachment system. It also can set the tone for how a child manages in the school environment.

According to Science Daily, University of Notre Dame professor of psychology Mark Cummings found that a family's relational style affected school behavior. The three styles he describes map to the attachment styles identified by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. They called them secure, anxious and dismissive; Cummings describes families as either cohesive, enmeshed or detached.

According to the article:

"Coming from a cohesive family, in which members tend to be warm and responsive to one another, where problems are resolved, and members cope well, increases the likelihood of children doing well in school," according to Cummings.


Skin Contact Reduces Risk of Postpartum Depression

We all need skin-to-skin contact with other humans. Period.

This contact is vital for newborns. Placing the newborn on her mother's chest as soon as possible after birth seems to trigger the reflex of crawling up to the breast and nursing.

A new study shows that ongoing skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby can increase attachment and reduce the risk of postpartum depression. According to the National Post:

The study also looked at how skin-to-skin contact affects babies’ cognitive functions and their relationships with their mothers.

And infant is also more aware when awake and sleeps more deeply while lying skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest, Dr. Bigelow says.


Even a Phone Call Can Boost Oxytocin

This is a really neat study, reported by MSNBC.  Like a lot of the human oxytocin studies, it validates something that feels true already. In fact, this study, by Seth Pollak at the University of Wisconsin, validates a couple things:

First, talking to your mom on the phone can be just as powerful as being cuddled in person. Second, that technology-mediated interactions can feel just as "real" as face-to-face.

In the study, girls 7 to 12 years old had to solve math problems in front of judges, a stress-producing situation. Afterward, one group of girls got together with their moms for hugs and kisses. A second group called their mothers on the phone for verbal reassurance. The third group watched a heart-warming movie. 

The researchers measured the girls' blood levels of cortisol and oxytocin before the math and again after the cool-down. They found higher oxytocin and lower cortisol not only in girls who got cuddles but also in the girls who talked to their mothers on the phone.

According to MSNBC's Linda Carroll,

The study results may not apply to every mother-child pair. Pollak allows that when relationships are more complicated and there is tension involved, mom’s voice might not be so soothing.

“The reason we chose pre-pubertal children is that, for the most part, they still really do like to be comforted by their parents. As kids get older the relationship can get more complicated and strained.”

Pollak says he’d like to explore the effects of a mom’s voice in those complicated relationships in future research.

No kidding. I think my mother's voice probably would raise my cortisol levels.


What Should Boobs Be For?

Despite the pretty much incontrovertible evidence that breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for your baby, and despite all the public info campaigns, less than one-third of American babies enjoy the breast by three months of age.

In my new Psychology Today blog, I asked whether this was due to our culture's obsession with breasts as sexual signifiers. Do you want hot and perky boobs, or breasts that are soft and even stretch-marked -- plus a happy, healthy baby?

I just wish this was a no-brainer question. Please read the post at Psychology Today.