The Chemistry of Love: Could the first opportunity to fall in love influence our ability to love for a lifetime?
There are many different types of love: sexual, romantic, platonic, filial, maternal, paternal, spiritual, love of self, love of country, love of possessions to name a few. Love for our mother, our first love, could be the pivotal love around which we build our ability to love in every other way. This paper will look at the chemistry that is involved in the baby’s first opportunity to love at that crucial time surrounding birthand the consequences of denying that opportunity. Love is as important to the individual as it is to their society and our world. At the time of birth, and for about an hour following birthing, the mother and her newborn baby are swamped in a cocktail of hormones. This time is a crucial time for the mother and baby to bond, to become attached … to fall in love. A baby born after a normal, unmedicated birth and immediately dried and placed in his mother’s arms on her bare chest gives an initial cry but quickly becomes quiet and alert, seeking visual contact with her. He rests for awhile, looking at his mother intermittently. This is followed by lip-smacking, and mouthing of the fingers begins, with an outpouring of saliva onto the baby's chin. Then the baby begins to inch forward with his legs to push strongly into the mother's lower abdomen. His hands reach from his mouth out to her chest and breasts, moistening her nipples with his wet fingers. When he reaches the tip of the sternum, he bounces his head into her chest. While moving up, he often turns his head from side to side. As he comes close to the nipple, he opens his mouth widely and, after several attempts, makes a perfect placement on the areola of the nipple and begins suckling.The baby’s heart rate and respiratory rate are rapidly stabilised, oxygen saturation remains normal and thermoregulation is rapidly achieved. There are no signs of stress. This species-specific set of innate behaviours is governed by and responsible for the release of the neurotransmitters that will influence the baby’s and mother’s relationship for a lifetime.The hormones (neurotransmitters) involved Interesting studies have been conducted on voles. The prairie vole, or prairie dog, is one of only a few mammals that are monogamous – they mate for life with one partner. Both parents nurture their young and the adult pair spend most of their time together. The montane vole, a close cousin of the prairie vole, on the other hand, is very promiscuous; its life being filled with one-night-stands and is uncommitted to either a partner or their own offspring. Very little genetically separates these two animals … only the presence of receptor sites for oxytocin in the area of the brain responsible fo r reward and pleasure, the limbic system, being one that the prairie vole has but the montane vole does not.All of the neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers, that are involved in love and loving, care and being cared for and our emotional state arise from the Limbic System. This is an ‘old’ part of the brain, sometimes referred to as the ‘mammalian’ brain. Responses that arise from this part of our brain are not under the control of our ‘thinking’ brain, or the neocortex. Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, a part of the Limbic System, and sequestered in the posterior pituitary gland to be released in a pulsatile manner when stimulated. This stimulation could occur from sharing a meal with friends; in response to a hug from a friend; while making love;during birthing and immediately after birth; and it is an integral part of breastfeeding. Oxytocin is described as the ‘hormone of love’ because it is consistentlyinvolved in all forms of love.All of these releases of oxytocin occur during a form of love. The hormones present at the same time as the oxytocin release determine how this love is directed. For example, during a shared meal with friends,...
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