'Love Hormone' Could Predict if Mum and Dad Will Stay Together After Baby
Known for its role in love and bonding, could oxytocin also be a predictor of the strength of a relationship?
Widely known as the love hormone, oxytocin is known for its role in love, bonding and caregiving.
Now, researchers are saying that levels of this hormone could predict if new mums and dads will stay together during the first few years of their child’s life.
They found a link between low oxytocin levels in the mum during pregnancy and soon after the baby’s birth and the possibility that new parents would break up by the time their child was around two years old.
“What these data suggest is that lower maternal oxytocin levels are associated with the risk of relationship dissolution by the time the child is a toddler,” study researcher Jennifer Bartz, a psychologist at McGill University in Canada, told an audience at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in San Diego.
Bartz and her colleagues collected samples of saliva from 341 pregnant women in their first trimester of pregnancy, in the third trimester and then seven to nine weeks after they gave birth.
Then, they followed up with the women two and a half years later, according to a Live Science report.
Among the 188 mums who could be contacted at the most recent follow-up, around 90 percent (170) were still with their original partners. Seven had gone through breakups and the others were either single during the study period, or were now in relationships.
According to Bartz, it’s very rare for couples to separate during the first few years after having a child. Even if they have problems, many parents try to work through them for the sake of their little one, so it’s not surprising that there were so few breakups in the study sample.
However, the seven women who did separate from their partners had lower oxytocin levels during their first trimester of pregnancy and during the postpartum period than the women who’d stayed with their partners, on average.
“Each unit increase in oxytocin in the first trimester increased the odds of relationship survival by about seven times,” Bartz told Live Science, and “each unit increase in the postpartum period raised those odds even more, by about nine times.”
More research needed
New mums and mums-to-be, please don’t start taking saliva tests to check your oxytocin levels — Bartz’s research is yet to be peer-reviewed and published in a journal.
The researcher also says that the results don’t conclusively point to the fact that low oxytocin levels alone were responsible for the breakups.
Bartz said that there is a possibility that women with high oxytocin levels might bond better with their babies (given the hormone’s role in bonding), and “any improvement in mother-child bonding could have a ripple effect on the overall climate of the household.”
Also, “high oxytocin levels could be a sign of a ‘tend and befriend’ approach, rather than a ‘fight or flight’ approach to handling stress,” she said.
In other words, mummies who are more likely to reach out for support instead of rejecting or withdrawing from it may cope better with the demands of a newborn and the changes having a new baby can bring about to a relationship.
The results of the study do provide some insight into how hormones might have an impact on relationships, and how new parents and parents-to-be could handle stress during pregnancy and after birth too.
Bartz told Live Science that she feels further research involving couples (not just mums) could shed even more light on the matter.
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