On the whole, this is an interesting book exploring the magic of the hormone oxytocin, its widely varied effects, and the gaps in our knowledge about it.
The author describes the ‘calm and connection’ system, and contrasts this with the ‘fight or flight’ system, which has already been widely researched. She posits that modern life gives little opportunity for human beings to enjoy the various conditions of rest, relaxation, and pleasant interactions, which cause a natural increase in levels of oxytocin.
The book is divided into parts, and begins with an explanation of the physiological processes involved in the calm and connection system. All this makes a lot of sense, although much of it is based on research with rats.
The section on the effects of oxytocin is the most interesting part of the book. It shows that oxytocin increases sociability, curiosity and nurturing behaviour, and decreases anxiety and fear. It enhances recognition and calm, and alleviates pain. It improves the ability to learn; and, in different circumstances, either raises or lowers blood pressure. It moderates body temperature and enables a mother to moderate her baby’s body temperature. It regulates appetite and makes digestion more effective. It aids growth and healing, and the flow of breastmilk, and the contractions to birth our babies. All of these different effects have the result of enabling animals to grow and to reproduce.
The chapter on breastfeeding is fascinating. However I noticed here and elsewhere some remarks that I know are not supported by evidence, including that mothers who have had a c/section have more difficulties in breastfeeding, the assumption that colic is a stomach disorder, and the assertion that breastfeeding women must avoid alcohol. This leads me to wonder how much of the rest of the content of the book is actually based on real evidence of human experience and behaviour.
Certainly the final section of the book is almost entirely based on speculation about the gaps in our knowledge, and uncritically discusses the role of oxytocin in acupunture and other complementary medicine.
I found much that was useful in this book, particularly on the subject of bonding, and specifically in relation to fathers, which is very relevant for me in my work. However I found the speculation in the final chapters vague and disconnected. I was surprised, given the original assertion that modern life is not conducive to natural oxytocin release, to read that the author is looking forward to oxytocin being available as an drug that can be administered for various conditions. I had expected the book to conclude that human beings need to use our knowledge of natural oxytocin to engage in more behaviour, or create more circumstances, where oxytocin is naturally maximised; not just to pop a pill to achieve all those beneficial effects.
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