Updated: July 29, 2019 6:05:30 pm
We often say that women usually have an innate maternal instinct. But have you ever wondered what exactly triggers it more in women as compared to men? Or it is just another stereotype that society upholds?
Scientists claim to have found the secret behind maternal instinct, which is, oxytocin. Also referred to as the love hormone, oxytocin is known to play a role in the regulation of social and maternal behaviour. A new study from Louisiana State University discovered a group of cells activated by oxytocin in one area of female mouse brains which are not present in the male counterpart.
Oxytocin receptor cells are located in the brain area, thought to be involved in the regulation of maternal behaviour. The expression of oxytocin receptors in these cells are present only in the presence of estrogen (primary female sex hormone). These cells then induce maternal behaviour.
The study also identified a connection between oxytocin receptors and postpartum depression, which affects some mothers after childbirth with symptoms such as sadness, change in sleeping and eating pattern, anxiety and irritability.
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Children of depressed mothers can be at risk of cognitive, emotional, behavioural and medical issues. The new study opens the chance of potential treatments for postpartum depression that target oxytocin receptor cells.
“Many researchers have attempted to investigate the difference between the oxytocin system in females versus males, but no one has successfully found conclusive evidence until now. Our discovery was a big surprise,” said Ryoichi Teruyama, associate professor, LSU Department of Biological Sciences, was quoted as saying.
Do all women have maternal instincts?
Studies in the past, however, have argued that maternal instinct is not real. Anthropoligist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, for instance, says that while all mammalian females have maternal responses, it does not mean every mother who gives birth automatically nurtures her offspring.
Dr Gillian Ragsdale, on the other hand, dismisses it as ‘instinct’ to call it more of a ‘drive’. “Instinct is hard wired. You don’t really think about it. A drive is motivating, it gives behavior direction, but it’s not an irresistible force,” she was quoted as saying.
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