All About Babies

This Is What Happens to Your Brain When You Look at Your Baby

New research shows mothers' brains produce more happiness hormones when watching their own babies.

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When you look at your beautiful new baby, you probably feel those warm and fuzzy feelings that you just don't get when you see your friend's adorable newborn. New research suggests the happy-hormone dopamine may explain why.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the sight of your baby cues your brain to release dopamine—and it plays a significant role in how you and Baby bond.

It makes sense: The chemicals in your brain literally cause you to view your baby as a little bundle of joy. And when you experience that rush of happy emotions, you're primed to provide your child with everything he or she needs to be comfortable, safe, and happy.

"Mothers who secrete more dopamine when watching their own infants (vs. other infants) were more likely to provide optimal care for their infants, were more sensitive to their infants’ needs, and adjusted their own behavior to meet those needs," study co-author Lisa Feldman Barret explained via email. "Dopamine is allowing a mother to make more of an effort to attend to and meet her baby's needs."

Although it may seem obvious that a mother who feels happy bonds more with her baby (and a mother bonding with her baby feels more happy), knowing the exact chemical reason could provide insight for moms who are struggling to feel a connection with their children.

"This research gives us an idea of where in the brain things might be going wrong when a mother is not secreting enough dopamine, as well as providing some hints about why," Barret said.

Research has also linked mom/baby bonding to oxytocin—also known as the love hormone or the cuddle hormone—but now, researchers can investigate both oxytocin and dopamine to try to help mothers having difficulty bonding with their babies.

"A mother who secretes less dopamine is not necessarily a bad mother or an inadequate mother," Barret noted. Instead, it means that there may be something "that can be tweaked" in the mother/child relationship to make it happier for both Mom and Baby.

Libby Ryan is Editorial Assistant for Parents.com.