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April 2012
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June 2012

Good-Enough Attachment Parenting

TIME_20120521_CV1_685150_C1Time's controversial article on attachment parenting sparked a backlash: It is impossible for most parents to achieve the ideal of close to 24-hour-a-day physical connection to their baby. That doesn't negate the value of learning to mother and father in a way that gives your baby the best start in life: a system bathed in oxytocin.

As I wrote in Oxytocin Parenting, Donald Winnicutt came up with the idea of the "good-enough mother." He believed that not only do mothers -- and fathers -- not need to be perfect, there may be value in the times when we screw up as parents, maybe by being short-tempered or not able to respond immediately to a baby's cries.

As long as we can consistently meet a baby's needs for security, physical connection, being seen and being fed, we can achieve a secure bond and shape the baby's oxytocin response in a healthy way.

Oxytocin Parenting adds to the concepts of attachment parenting by explaining how the way we parent shapes a baby's neural pathways and his or her ability to respond to opportunities for safe connection in a healthy way.

Janice D'Arcy of the Washington Post sums up the controversy and calls for a more nuanced approach to the idea of attachment parenting -- although she seems to imply that attachment parenting means literally being physically attached to your baby, via breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc.

Everyone can achieve a good-enough version of attachment parenting, even if your baby is in daycare, even if your baby was adopted, even if you aren't breastfeeding. Let's not throw out the attachment with the bathwater.

INSAR: Single Snort of Oxytocin Could Improve Social Brain Function

A paper to be presented at the 2012 international Society for Autism Research used fMRI to find that a single dose of inhaled oxytocin increased activity in areas of the brain that process social activity.

The researchers' conclusion:

These results provide the first, critical steps towards devising more effective treatments for the core social deficits in autism which may involve a combination of validated clinical interventions with an administration of oxytocin. Such a treatment approach will fundamentally alter for the better our understanding of autism and its treatment.

LeftBrainRightBrain has more info and a link to the study, led by I. Gordon at Yale.

New Patent App: Melanotan II to Enhance Oxytocin

220px-Melatonin-3d-CPKLarry Young, one of the early researchers on oxytocin and bonding in prairie voles, applied for a patent on using Melanotan II to enhance the effects of oxytocin used during psychotherapy. Co-applicant is Meera E. Modi, a member of Young's lab at Emory University.

The patent application "relates to methods of improving social cognition in a subject in need thereof including administering a compound that stimulates oxytocin (OT) release in the brain. Typically, the compound that stimulated OT release is a melanocortin receptor agonist. The compound, in certain embodiments, is melanotan II or derivative thereof."

Melanotan II is a synthetic version of melatonin.

Young and Modi point out that there are melanocortin receptors located on nerve cells that produce oxytocin. So, instead of having a patient inhale oxytocin directly, he or she could be given melanotan II or something like it, which would cause the brain to release oxytocin.

A bit of scientific inside-baseball: Larry Young and Sue Carter got a lot of attention for their work showing oxytocin's effects on prairie voles, but they seemed to quickly get left behind when researchers, most notably Paul Zak, began dosing humans. So, it's interesting to see Young getting in this game.

Also, I'm not a patent expert, nor a researcher, but the Young-Modi patent application is based on studies done with prairie voles. In the early days, Young and Carter were careful to say that they didn't know if their research applied to humans. Turned out it did. But I wonder if a patent would be granted for human treatment based on animal studies. Any experts out there want to weigh in?

You can read the patent application here:

Love My Vagus Nerve

6212291122_666fa9df53_mIf you're a fan of neurochemistry and oxytocin, you probably know about the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for fight-or-flight type responses, and the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calm-and-connection responses.

Marsha Lucas, PhD, wrote an excellent article explaining the polyvagal theory put forth by Stephen Porges, PhD (husband and colleague of Sue Carter, one of the primary oxytocin researchers).

She writes,

His polyvagal theory suggests that there are three circuits (not just two branches), which drive one of three possible responses, depending on how we sense the relative safety, danger, or threat to life in our bodies. ... if the [amygdala's] assessment is that the incoming information indicates that things are safe, a third part of the circuit (the ventral vagus) essentially “turns off” the fight-flight response, and social engagement can happen – a calm state that supports being connected with others. Being in this state allows for better health, growth, and communication.

I've been a fan of the vagus nerve since writing Chemistry of Connection. It's a primary conduit of oxytocin from the brain to the gut and genitals, and it's likely responsible for the connection we feel between food and love. And it may be responsible for that feeling of oneness and connectedness that psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls "elevation."

Read Marsha's article for an excellent explanation of how the amygdala works and what we can experience when we feel safe. Marsha does not mention oxytocin, but, when she writes, "When the ventral vagus is “on”, we have a greater capacity to really listen, in a tuned-in way, to others," that's the effect of oxytocin traveling along this nerve.

To read more:

The Amazing Vagus Nerve

Let Us Elevate Together

The full article by Marcia Lucas is posted on Lisa Kift's blog.

Photo by eljay