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A Loving Touch

A Loving Touch

Everyone knows not to go anywhere near a mama bear and her cubs. The maternal bond is truly fierce, and not just in animals! Human moms share a strong bond with their babies, too (so strong that particularly protective mothers are often compared to their furry animal counterparts!)

There is a biological reason for the ferocity of the maternal bond: oxytocin. During childbirth, the mother's pituitary gland, which is a tiny almond sized gland towards the back of the brain, produces oxytocin, pumping it throughout the body. As the mother's brain is flooded with oxytocin, a number of fascinating things happen. Oxytocin acts as a muscle contractor, speeding up labor. It plays a role in preparing the mother's body to breastfeed. Finally, it fosters an emotional bond between mom and baby that is so strong, researchers say it actually dims the memory of the pain of childbirth.

Oxytocin has always been thought of as a childbirth hormone. But oxytocin is actually responsible for the sense of bonding in any relationship, not just the relationship between moms and their children. Even men produce oxytocin. In fact, oxytocin is referred to as the love or cuddle hormone because it is released during any type of physical touch. Believe it or not, even petting an animal can cause your body to produce the hormone!

If you're not a new parent, how do you benefit when your body produces oxytocin? You'll be glad to know that oxytocin lowers stress, brings down blood pressure, and reinforces feelings of love, trust and generosity.

In honor of Valentine's Day this month, naturally increase your levels of the love hormone with physical touch. Hugs and kisses are always a great idea, but even a rub on the back can boost your oxytocin production. And if you're lacking in the "significant other" department, spend time petting an animal or even flipping through an old photo album and reminiscing about people you love. All these things can cause your "love hormone" meter to spike, nurturing the biological factor that brings us all together.

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