Mothers and babies wanted for Oxytocin study

27 June, 2013

Mothers with babies aged between three and six months and 10 and 16 months are being sought for a study exploring factors which may protect women from the experience of post-natal depression and which may support the development of the mother-child relationship.

The study, being run by Deakin University PhD candidate Rebecca Knapp, investigates the role Oxytocin, a naturally occurring but little-studied hormone, may play in the wellbeing of both the mother and the child.

"The role of Oxytocin in childbirth and lactation has been known for some time, but more recently Oxytocin has been linked to decreased stress, increased trust and empathy, and other aspects of social connectedness," Knapp explained.

"Research looking at Oxytocin in animals has shown that its release and concentration in the body are not just genetically predetermined, but may be shaped by early life experiences.

If this is the case in humans, then this could complete part of the puzzle regarding how individuals learn to connect with one another, respond to stress, and return to a state of calm."

Knapp said the relationship between Oxytocin and the well-being of mothers and babies was under-researched, a situation the study hoped to address.

"We know that relationships experienced in early childhood can have an influence later in life, including with partners, friends and family, and with one’s own children," she said.

"What is not yet known is whether there is an interplay between these early life experiences and how the body releases Oxytocin and responds to stress, and if so, whether these then influence the wellbeing of a mother and her relationship with her baby.

"We also want to explore whether certain factors, including the release of these hormones, protects women against the experience of postnatal anxiety and depression," she said.

Knapp said participants who volunteered for the study would be required to attend two, one hour sessions with their baby at either Deakin University’s Burwood or Geelong Campus.

Mothers would be videotaped interacting and playing with their child and saliva samples from both mothers and their infants would be taken before and after the activity.

Mothers who take part are also asked to complete a questionnaire at home looking at their physical health, lifestyle, relationships, mood, stress, and their thoughts about their child.