Do Your Hormone Levels Determine If You'll Be a Good Mother?

Why are some women better mothers than others? Studies with animals implicate oxytocin in the bonding process -- those with low oxytocin exhibit slower pup retrieval and less licking and grooming -- but little research has been done with humans.

Now a new study in the November issue of Psychological Science suggests that women with higher levels of oxytocin during their first trimester are primed to the formation of a more intimate bond with their infants.

About the Author

Dr. Laura Markham,
the Dear Abby of Parenting, is a clinical psychologist who hosts the popular advice column "Ask Dr. Laura" at the parenting web site, The Good Dr. answers questions from parents of infants through teens, offering parent-tested solutions you can use every day to connect with your kids and create a richer family life. Her work appears regularly on a dozen parenting sites and in print, and she frequently speaks with groups of parents, both online and in person, about transforming their parenting. Dr. Laura lives in New York with her husband, son and daughter.

11/1/2007 7:00:00 AM
Dr. Laura Markham
Laura Markham, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist trained at Columbia University in New York. She’s held many challenging jobs (she started and ran a weekly newspaper chain), but thinks raising children is the hardest, and most rewarding, work anyone can do.
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First, oxytocin is not a mom hormone, it is a love hormone. Men and women have it in equal amounts. Love is the opposite of fear and worry, so someone who has a lot of oxytocin in their system probably is not worrying a lot. Second, I don't think that worry and love are necessarily related. If a mom spends a lot of time worrying about her thirty year old, she is sending a message that her child is not able to take care of herself. Checking on an infant is a normal maternal response, as is fretting over a feverish child. It is also normal for parents to hold their breath when they send their child off to camp, or college. But as we learn that our kids will, in fact, be ok, it is normal to relax and adjust to the situation. We gain confidence in our child and trust in life. I notice that women who focus only on their kids are more prone to worrying. Women who are employed outside the home usually report that they are happier. It may be that women who primarily identify as mothers even when their kids are grown worry more. ANd it has been proven that the more TV you watch, the more dangerous you think the world is. Personally speaking, I have been described as a hyper-attentive mother to my two kids, now 12 and 16. I certainly have strong mom instincts. I adore my kids. I certainly think about what's best for them. But I spend very little time "worrying" about them, even though my son travels all over New York by subway by himself at all hours. Basically, I trust him, and I trust life. Am I in denial about the bad things that can happen in life? Maybe. I certainly acknowledge those things, and grieve about them at times. But I am a happy person by nature, and I have gotten happier as I've gotten older. So I can't say that I agree with your theory!
Posted by Dr. Laura Markham
Very interesting. Dr. Markham, do you think oxytocin is also what makes moms crazy? :-) Seriously though, every mom I know is a perpetual worrier. I'm almost 30, married, and an adult and my mom still worries about me! And everyone else I talk to thinks their mom calls them too much and talks to much. I'm half joking here, but I wonder if the "mom" hormone also causes them to go crazy over the course of rearing a child into adulthood from constant worrying. My hypothesis is that women with strong mom instincts worry from the time their children are born until the day they die. I think this fries their nervous system and it creates a downward spiral that goes on until death. Thoughts?
Posted by ewilson
I've been reading up on oxytocin, and that's some pretty interesting stuff right there. I had heard of "the cuddle hormone", but I didn't know its name. Thank you for the education! :-D
Posted by CET

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