Bonding, Oxytocin and the Role of Touch
Bonding can be described as a special connection between individuals, an attachment to another individual and a feeling of reward by being attached. The parameters of these bonds between two people are sometimes used to scientifically define love.
Baby Reflex has been used by Mothers, Fathers and Grandparents to help with bonding.
In the case of the mother-infant bond, there is a physical recognition by a Mother of her child and the desire, followed by the actions necessary, to give warmth, comfort, food, and protection. It has been known for many years that the hormone oxytocin plays an important role in the initiation and the maintenance of these behaviours. Oxytocin has been described as a "bonding hormone", which makes people feel secure and trusting toward one other. Oxytocin is also known to lower cortisol levels and reduce stress.
A Closer Look at Oxytocin
We are often taught in antenatal classes about the role of the hormone Oxytocin during and after childbirth. The name Oxytocin literally means "swift childbirth". Oxytocin is released during labour, facilitating birth, maternal bonding, and is also involved in lactation. As a Mother’s due date nears, her brain starts to produce more and more oxytocin.
Oxytocin has been described as “a hormone that literally helps bring out the mother in you.” Not only described as “the bonding hormone”, but also even as “the love hormone”; Oxytocin has received a great deal of scientific interest. It has been found that Oxytocin evokes feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness. Research has also demonstrated that oxytocin can decrease anxiety and protect against stress, particularly in combination with social support.
Many Mothers have enjoyed Reflexology treatments both before conceiving and also during pregnancy. Many of our Baby Reflex Practitioners are also specialists in Fertility Reflexology and Maternity Reflexology.
Studies in Animals suggest that Oxytocin plays a vast role in all sorts of social behaviours, including how animals raise their young. Animals that do not produce oxytocin will ignore their offspring and find different mates every season. Species that do make oxytocin tend to be more devoted parents. They also form more lasting bonds with their mates.
It has been found that Oxytocin increases trust and reduces fear.
In fact… An interesting study looking at social behaviour and wound healing, reported that Oxytocin is also thought to modulate inflammation by decreasing certain cytokines (small proteins that are important in cell signalling). Thus showing that the increased release in oxytocin following positive social interactions has the potential to improve wound healing. A recent study provided some preliminary evidence that positive social interactions may directly impact aspects of health!
Touch is soothing for both the Parent and their baby and can promote healthy growth and development.
When we are touched signals from skin pressure receptors called the Pacinian corpuscles go directly to a nerve bundle in the brain called the vagus nerve. The vagus sometimes is called "the wanderer" because it has branches that wander throughout the body to several internal organs, including the heart. And it's the vagus nerve that then slows the heart down and decreases blood pressure. (We look at the vagus nerve when treating Reflux using Baby Reflex).
Not only does touch result in the release of oxytocin, but also levels of the stress hormone cortisol will drop.
According to Roberta Lee, MD, the vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York City, "Cortisol suppresses the immune response…" "Anything that increases the relaxation response triggers the restoration of your immune response."
During the various pilot studies carried out by Jenny lee and her team in to the effects of Reflexology on Asthmatic Children, supported by The Prince of Wales Foundation for Integrated Medicine, it was found that the children had less bouts of asthma, sleep improved, they were more relaxed and had more resistance to viruses and infections. Behaviour, moods, sociability and Quality of Life indicators all improved.
The techniques practised in Baby Reflex involve loving touch and also a degree of verbal, as well as visual communication.
The benefits of the reassuring, gentle touch of Baby Reflex can help to relax and calm. We feel that using Baby Reflex techniques provides a wonderful opportunity to bond with your baby. We believe that the benefit of Baby Reflex techniques helping parent and child bonding may be due, in part, to the increase in levels of Oxytocin, which occur when we use the loving touch of Baby Reflex.
According to Kerstin Uvnas Moberg’s, The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing, when a mother touches her baby, oxytocin is released in both the mother and the infant. Touch and connection with their infant change a Mother’s hormone levels. Oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins are released, and the Mother’s body begins to feel better. When a Mother holds or strokes her baby she may be rewarded with further positive feedback, when the baby smiles at her or interacts in a positive way.
According to Matthew J. Hertenstein, Ph.D., "Having… friendly touch… buffers the physiological consequences of… stressful response," "Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding," Hertenstein says. "It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people," Hertenstein says.
Hertenstein also says that recent studies from England pinpointed an area in the brain that becomes highly activated in response to friendly touch. The region of our brain called the orbital frontal cortex and it is the same area that responds to sweet tastes and pleasing smells.
"A soft touch… makes the orbital frontal cortex light up, just like those other rewarding stimuli," Hertenstein says. "So, touch is a very powerful rewarding stimulus — just like your chocolate that you find in your cupboard at home."
The surge of oxytocin makes you feel more connected and as mentioned previously, more trusting. The heart slows and blood pressure lowers. We therefore feel less stressed and even soothed. It is amazing to think that this huge and incredibly complex chain of events in the brain and body are all initiated by a simple, supportive touch.
The gentle touch of Baby Reflex can promote these feeling of calm and relaxation, connecting the Parent and child.