A new study of couples and their firstborn children suggests
oxytocin levels are just as high in fathers as in mothers during
their newborn’s early months. Overall, parental oxytocin levels
increased across the study period, with no differences between
maternal and paternal levels at each time point.
Oxytocin and the Development of Parenting in
Ilanit Gordonab, Orna Zagoory-Sharonab,
James F. Leckmanc, Ruth Feldmanabc
Received 25 November 2009; received in revised form 3 February
2010; accepted 5 February 2010. published online 01 April 2010.
The nonapeptide oxytocin (OT) has been repeatedly implicated in
processes of parent-infant bonding in animal models; yet, its role
in the development of human parenting has received less attention
and no research has addressed the involvement of OT in the
transition to fatherhood.
Using a prospective longitudinal design, 160 cohabitating mothers
and fathers and their firstborn infant were visited at home during
the first postpartum weeks and again at 6 months postpartum.
Mothers' and fathers' plasma OT was analyzed at each time point with
enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay methodology. Interactions between
each parent and the infant were observed in the postpartum and
microcoded for parenting behavior.
Overall, parental OT increased across the study period and there
were no differences between maternal and paternal OT at each time
point. Oxytocin showed high intraindividual stability across the
first 6 months of parenting and the OT levels of husband and wife
were interrelated at both assessments. Maternal OT was related to
the amount of affectionate parenting behaviors, including
“motherese” vocalizations, the expression of positive affect,
and affectionate touch, whereas paternal OT correlated with the
degree of stimulatory parenting behaviors, including proprioceptive
contact, tactile stimulation, and object presentation.
Results are the first to describe plasma OT levels in new fathers
and mothers across the transition to parenthood in relation to
maternal and paternal typical parenting behaviors. These data may
provide a normative basis for the study of parenting under
conditions of high risk.
Key Words: Infant development, neurobiology of parenting,
oxytocin, parent-infant interaction, parenting, transition to
a Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan,
b Gonda Brain Research Center, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan,
c Child Study Center, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut