Research shows the hormone that allows female mammals to feed their young also affects their brains, encouraging nurturing behavior

The survival instinct is inherent in us all, as is evidenced by a recent study by researchers from New Zealand. The team of University of Otago scientists discovered that the hormone prolactin, best known for its role in milk production, also helps solidify the nurturing bond between mother and child, reported Science Daily.

They came to this conclusion after knocking out the prolactin receptors in the brains of adult female mice. These mice were able to get pregnant and bear babies normally. However, they abandoned their pups 24 hours after giving birth. By contrast, mice who had been subjected to subtle changes to their prolactin capacity only showed modest changes to their displays of maternal care.

“Our data establish a critical role for prolactin-induced behavioral responses in the maternal brain, ensuring survival of mammalian offspring,” the researchers wrote in their study.

“Our findings establish a critical role for prolactin for more than simply milk production,” said study co-author Dr. Rosie Brown. “This work is the first to show this hormone is a literal life saver in that it establishes and maintains the normal parental care that ensures offspring survival.”

Brown further noted that the absence or deficiency of prolactin in some animal species may partly explain why mothers of these species desert their young. Any disruptions in the communication between the brain and prolactin could sever the link between mothers and their babies before it has time to even materialize.

Natural and nurturing: Why breastfeeding is essential to survival

Breastfeeding, much like prolactin itself, is absolutely necessary for a mother and her baby. Lactation happens for a reason — several good ones, actually:

  • Breastfeeding is good for the baby — Every nutrient that a growing baby’s body needs can be found in their mother’s milk, which is easily absorbed and digested by the baby. And unlike formulas, the milk being produced by a mother will undergo subtle changes in its constitution and nutritional content to match the baby’s ever-changing needs. Colostrum, the milk crucial for newborns, is one such example. It contains the antibodies that protect newborns against disease, and it administers its nutrients in a low-volume yet concentrated form that helps newborns pass waste products with ease.
  • Breastfeeding is good for the mother  Lactation follows pregnancy and childbirth, and is therefore the natural next step in female development. As such, breastfeeding causes women to experience fewer instances of bleeding, a quicker return to the pre-pregnancy body shape, and can even give a mother’s body more time to heal by delaying the onset of fertility. Moreover, a mother’s body is able to better absorb calcium while she’s breastfeeding, which in turn means the decreased risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis. (Related: Breastfeeding Is Good For Mothers, Not Just Babies, Studies Says.)

As you can see, lactation occurs to ensure the survival of children and their mothers, and breastfeeding is necessary just for that. This natural cycle is but one of many that the body undergoes to help itself get through this day and the next.

To read up on more news relating to pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing, simply go to today.

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