Oxytocin: Just a Little Hug Can Do So Much
How quickly the month of February has flown by, at least for me. It seems like I always have much more to do than can possibly be accomplished in 24 hours. Do you ever feel that way? I have a feeling I am not alone in this. So here is February’s blog a little late. Yes, dear reader, I am human; I miss deadlines. Please forgive me.
This month we celebrated love, that intense feeling of deep affection, tenderness, warmth, and attachment to someone (or something), on the 14th. Valentine’s Day conjures up thoughts of romance, of hugs and kisses, chocolates, candy hearts, and spending time with the one you love.
And physical contact, human touch. The thing we crave from the day we are born and throughout our whole life. Physical contact distinguishes humans from other animals. We have developed complex languages and emotional expressions through physical contact. Human touch is vital in order for us to truly thrive.
Child development research indicates that the absence of physical bonding, nurturing, and healthy attachment between an adult and a child may result in lifelong disturbances. Physical contact helps bond people together. It activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion.
Touch can help us fall in love as it can signal safety, trust, and create a sense if well-being and happiness. Our skin contains receptors that directly elicit emotional responses.
Also, a simple touch can trigger a release of a very important hormone, oxytocin, which is sometimes called the “love hormone”. It is also called the “bonding hormone” and is released by the pituitary gland. This hormone has many special functions, especially in women, from causing uterine contractions during labor to ordering the body to “let down” milk in the breast for the baby to drink. It also promotes mother-child bonding by motivating the mother to care for her infant, encouraging feelings of connectedness, and helping the mother to fall in love with her baby. In turn, this interaction with its mother causes the infant’s own levels of oxytocin to increase. This induces a feeling of tranquility in the baby as oxytocin counters the effects of stress hormones.
Physical touch may also decrease disease. “Women who receive more hugs from their partners have lower heart rates and blood pressure,” according to research conducted at the University of North Carolina. This research also reported, “Hugs strengthen the immune system…the gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keeps you healthy and disease free.” Wow!
So with all of this in mind, who needs a hug? A cuddle? A kiss? A simple pat on the back or a hand to hold? We all do! I hope you got some great oxytocin- inducing, love-producing touch this past month. Keep up the good work! This is one “chore” most of don’t mind doing!
With Hugs, Hope “Hug It Out” Ouellette Certified Lactation Counselor
P.S. Check us out next month to find out why it is biologically important for moms to kiss and cuddle their babies.