Althought Therapy

The Role of Oxytocin: Childbirth, Breastfeeding, and Love

Oxytocin, often dubbed the “love hormone,” is far more than just a catalyst for romantic feelings. This remarkable neuropeptide, produced in the hypothalamus and secreted by the posterior pituitary gland, plays a pivotal role in enhancing trust, bonding, and social connections. Its influence stretches from facilitating childbirth and breastfeeding to deepening emotional ties and even aiding in therapeutic settings. Additionally, oxytocin can produce anti-stress effects, such as reducing blood pressure and cortisol levels. It also increases pain thresholds and is involved in social interactions, meaning that receiving positive interactions with others can boost oxytocin levels. Recent studies illuminate its significant impact on social behaviors, suggesting oxytocin could be a key to improving relationships and mental health therapies. In this blog, we’ll explore the multifaceted roles of oxytocin, shedding light on how this powerful hormone affects our daily interactions and emotional well-being.

Role of Oxytocin

What is Oxytocin?

Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, which is located in the brain. The hypothalamus acts as the brain’s control and regulation center, maintaining your body in a state of homeostasis. It is commonly known for regulating body temperature, blood pressure, hunger, thirst, fullness (while eating), mood, sex drive, and sleep. Once oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, it enters the bloodstream via the posterior pituitary gland. The main function of the posterior pituitary gland is to release oxytocin and vasopressin. Interestingly, oxytocin isn’t necessarily released on a scheduled or interval basis; rather, it is released through the stimulation of neurons within the hypothalamus. This means that some type of influence on the body is required to send a signal to the hypothalamus, stimulating neurons to produce and release oxytocin.


Oxytocin plays an important role in reproduction, labor, and breastfeeding. It is released from the testes upon ejaculation, supporting sperm transportation. However, two of oxytocin’s primary responsibilities are to activate uterine contractions during childbirth and to support lactation. Oxytocin stimulates uterine muscles to contract and increases the production of prostaglandins, which further support uterine contractions for delivery. Manufactured oxytocin can be given to women to stimulate labor but cannot be used to induce an abortion. The uterus is only responsive to oxytocin for stimulating contractions when progesterone levels are low, which occurs later in pregnancy. Early in pregnancy, progesterone levels are too high for oxytocin to have an impact on stimulating contractions. Manufactured oxytocin may be given to women who are already in labor to increase contractions or to speed up the delivery of the placenta and reduce the risk of heavy bleeding. During breastfeeding, the sensation of the infant suckling triggers a neural response that reaches the hypothalamus and prompts the release of oxytocin. Once oxytocin is released into the bloodstream, it eventually arrives at the breast tissue and milk glands, stimulating the release of milk (milk letdown).

Oxytocin has been demonstrated to decrease stress and anxiety levels. Some research suggests that oxytocin can have positive impacts on social behaviors related to:

  • Relaxation
  • Trust
  • Overall psychological stability

Oxytocin is controlled by a positive feedback system, which means that more oxytocin leads to an increase in its release. For example, when an infant is nursing, it stimulates the release of oxytocin, which in turn prompts a continued release of oxytocin to increase milk supply. Additionally, oxytocin acts as a chemical messenger in the brain, enhancing a sense of bonding and connection with the infant.

Oxytocin and Love

In adults, oxytocin has been found to increase trust and improve the reading of emotional cues, which are crucial for developing relationships. When you fall in love, your body releases dopamine, which in turn increases both serotonin and oxytocin levels. Oxytocin plays a significant role in attachment and bonding. When you kiss or hug a loved one, you experience an increase in oxytocin, which results in enhanced feelings of love, connection, and bonding. One research study that administered oxytocin found that men in monogamous relationships stayed farther away from an attractive woman compared to single men. This study suggests that oxytocin levels play a role not only in romantic attraction and sexual behavior but also in the maintenance of romantic relationships.


Mothers with higher levels of oxytocin are more likely to engage in frequent checks on their baby, affectionately touching them, speaking to them affectionately, and displaying caretaking behaviors. Additionally, oxytocin levels increase for mothers while their infants gaze up at them. Interestingly, the longer the infant gazes at the mother, the more oxytocin levels tend to decrease. This research study suggested that oxytocin is not required to maintain this social bond since oxytocin levels increased when the infant looked away. When infants looked away from their mothers, it may have stimulated a maternal stress response to repair the bond with the infant by increasing oxytocin levels, thus promoting social bonding between the mother and infant.

Oxytocin and Psychotherapy

While research on the impacts of oxytocin in psychotherapy is scarce, some early pilot studies support its positive impact on the therapeutic process and relationship. In two separate studies, patients were administered exogenous oxytocin before their sessions. In the first study, although the patients did not notice any differences in their thoughts or behaviors, therapists rated them as having more positive thoughts and behaviors compared to patients who received a placebo. In the other study, PTSD patients experienced positive responses to the administered oxytocin before the therapy session.


Oxytocin levels are not only important for the client but also play a crucial role for the therapist. A separate study that measured the therapist’s oxytocin levels found that when patients expressed negative emotions, the therapist released more oxytocin. This release led to a decrease in the patient’s negative emotions and depressive symptoms in subsequent sessions. Therefore, the direct measure of oxytocin’s benefits was not based solely on the client but was supported by the social bonding that occurred between the patient and therapist, which helped alleviate the patient’s symptoms.

Oxytocin stands as a fascinating molecule with profound implications for our understanding of human behavior and relationships. From its crucial role in childbirth and breastfeeding to its impact on trust, bonding, and therapeutic processes, oxytocin’s influence permeates various aspects of our lives. As research continues to unveil its intricate mechanisms and effects, harnessing the power of oxytocin may hold promise for improving mental health interventions, enhancing social connections, and fostering a deeper appreciation for the complexities of human interaction. Embracing the significance of oxytocin offers a glimpse into the intricate tapestry of human emotions and underscores the vital role that neurochemistry plays in shaping our experiences and relationships.



Harvard Health: 

Pub Med

Your Hormones

Textbook: An Introduction to Behavioral Endocrinology (4th Edition) by: Randy J. Nelson

Science Direct

Health Direct

Scientific American