Life after Childbirth: The Beneficial Consequences of Oxytocin on Motherhood and Offspring Cognitive Development
Authors: Alaine C. Keebaugh, Dana Orban, and Larry J. Young
Abstract: Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and released into circulation through the neurohypophyseal system. Peripherally released oxytocin facilitates parturition and milk ejection during nursing while centrally released oxytocin coordinates the onset of maternal nurturing behavior at parturition and plays a role in mother-infant bonding. Mother-offspring interactions represent one of the most intense social contacts in any given species. These close social interactions have beneficial effects on the mental and physical health state in both the mother and her offspring. Oxytocin signaling plays a role in the establishment and maintenance of these close social relationships by (1) modulating the neural reward systems and ensuring that reward centers of the brain are activated by these social interactions and (2) mediating the beneficial effects on the mental and physical health state in both the mother and the offspring. Indeed, negative health consequences are observed in the absence of or as a result of sudden interruption of these social interactions. Further, the oxytocinergic system has recently been identified as a potential therapeutic target for enhancing social relationships as well as for the treatment of psychological disorders characterized by deficits in social behavior. Here, we review the involvement of the brain neuropeptide, Oxytocin, in mediating maternal motivation and mother-infant bonds, the positive health effects resulting from these bonds, and discuss future directions for pharmacological interventions targeting the oxytocinergic system.