Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 11, Issue 5–6, pp 335–345 | Cite as

Influence of oxytocin or epidural analgesia on personality profile in breastfeeding women: a comparative study

  • W. Jonas
  • E. Nissen
  • A. B. Ransjö-Arvidson
  • A. S. Matthiesen
  • K. Uvnäs-Moberg
Original Contribution


Women undergo physiological and psychological changes during pregnancy, labor and lactation. The psychological adaptations can be affective, cognitive and behavioral and can be measured by dimensional personality instruments. This study aims to compare (1) the personality profile in mothers after birth with a normative group of non-lactating women and to examine (2) whether the personality profile differs 2 days, 2 months and 6 months after birth between mothers who have been exposed to epidural anesthesia, oxytocin administration or neither. Sixty-nine primiparae were assigned to four groups: mothers having received oxytocin infusion during labor (OT iv group, n = 9), mothers having received epidural analgesia with/without oxytocin infusion (EDA group, n = 23), mothers having received 10 iU oxytocin intramuscularly after birth (OT im group, n = 15) and mothers having received none of these treatments (unmedicated group, n = 22). At 2 days and 2 and 6 months postpartum mothers completed the Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP). The unmedicated, the OT iv- and OT im groups scored significantly lower on anxiety and aggression related scales and higher on the socialization subscale during the entire observation period when compared with a normative group. These differences were not observed in the EDA group 2 days postpartum. At 2 and 6 months postpartum, the scores of the EDA group had changed significantly and were almost similar to the KSP scores of the other groups. ANCOVA analysis revealed that OT infusion, over and above the effects of EDA, was associated with decreased levels of several anxiety and aggression subscales. We conclude that women who received exogenous oxytocin during labor show similar positive personality traits during breastfeeding such as reduction in anxiety and aggression and increasing socialization, including maternal behavior, that have previously been ascribed to endogenous oxytocin. More importantly, these effects were not seen at 2 days postpartum in women who received epidural anesthesia during labor.


Breastfeeding Epidural analgesia Lactation Oxytocin Personality 



The authors would like to thank the Vårdal Stiftelsen, the Swedish Research Council (K 1999–2001 27P-13085 and K1999-27XP-13263-01) the Center for Health Care Sciences, Karolinska Institutet and the Health Care Sciences Postgraduate School at the Karolinska Institute for research grants.

Also, we would like to thank all mothers for participating in this study, the staff at BB Stockholm, and Ingela Wiklund for participating in collection of data.


  1. af Klinteberg B, Magnusson D (1986) Self reported assessment of personality traits. Data from the KSP inventory on a representative sample of normal male and female subjects within a developmental project. University of Stockholm, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  2. Alehagen S, Wijma B, Lundberg U, Wijma K (2005) Fear, pain and stress hormones during childbirth. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 26:153–165PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bystrova K, Ivanova V, Edhborg M, Lundh W, Matthiesen A, Ransjö-Arvidson A, Welles-Nyström B, Vorontsov I, Mukhamedrahimov R, Uvnäs-Moberg K, Widström A (2008) Effect of closeness versus separation after birth and influence of swaddling on mother-infant interaction one year later: a study in St. Petersburg. Birth (in press)Google Scholar
  4. de Chateau P, Wiberg B (1984) Long-term effect on mother-infant behaviour of extra contact during the first hour post partum. III. Follow-up at one year. Scand J Soc Med 12:91–103PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Debiec J (2005) Peptides of love and fear: vasopressin and oxytocin modulate the integration of information in the amygdala. Bioessays 2:869–873Google Scholar
  6. Domes G, Heinrichs M, Michel A, Berger C, Herpertz SC (2007) Oxytocin improves "mind-reading" in humans. Biol Psychiatry 61:731–733PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Feldman R, Weller A, Zagoory-Sharon O, Levine A (2007) Evidence for a neuroendocrinological foundation of human affiliation: plasma oxytocin levels across pregnancy and the postpartum period predict mother-infant bonding. Psychol Sci 18:965–970PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Goodfellow CF, Hull MG, Swaab DF, Dogterom J, Buijs RM (1983) Oxytocin deficiency at delivery with epidural analgesia. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 90:214–219PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Gustavsson JP, Åsberg M, Schalling D (1997) The healthy control subject in psychiatric research: impulsiveness and volunteer bias. Acta Psychiatr Scand 96:325–328PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hollander E, Bartz J, Chaplin W, Phillips A, Sumner J, Soorya L, Anagnostou E, Wasserman S (2007) Oxytocin increases retention of social cognition in autism. Biol Psychiatry 61:498–503PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kennell JH, Trause MA, Klaus MH (1975) Evidence for a sensitive period in the human mother. Ciba Found Symp:87-101Google Scholar
  12. Keverne EB, Kendrick KM (1994) Maternal behaviour in sheep and its neuroendocrine regulation. Acta Paediatr Suppl 397:47–56PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Krehbiel D, Poindron P, Levy F, Prud’Homme MJ (1987) Peridural anesthesia disturbs maternal behavior in primiparous and multiparous parturient ewes. Physiol Behav 40:463–472PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Levy F, Kendrick KM, Keverne EB, Piketty V, Poindron P (1992) Intracerebral oxytocin is important for the onset of maternal behavior in inexperienced ewes delivered under peridural anesthesia. Behav Neurosci 106:427–432PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Loup F, Tribollet E, Dubois-Dauphin M, Pizzolato G, Dreifuss JJ (1989) Localization of oxytocin binding sites in the human brainstem and upper spinal cord: an autoradiographic study. Brain Res 500:223–230PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Nissen E (1996) Effects of some ward routines on behavioural and physiological adaptation to breastfeeding. Karolinska Institutet, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  17. Nissen E, Gustavsson P, Widström AM, Uvnäs-Moberg K (1998) Oxytocin, prolactin, milk production and their relationship with personality traits in women after vaginal delivery or Cesarean section. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 19:49–58PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Petersson M, Alster P, Lundeberg T, Uvnäs-Moberg K (1996) Oxytocin causes a long-term decrease of blood pressure in female and male rats. Physiol Behav 60:1311–1315PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Petersson M, Eklund M, Uvnäs-Moberg K (2005) Oxytocin decreases corticosterone and nociception and increases motor activity in OVX rats. Maturitas 51:426–433PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rahm VA, Hallgren A, Högberg H, Hurtig I, Odlind V (2002) Plasma oxytocin levels in women during labor with or without epidural analgesia: a prospective study. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 81:1033–1039PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ryding EL, Wirfelt E, Wängborg IB, Sjögren B, Edman G (2007) Personality and fear of childbirth. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 86:814–820PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sjögren B, Widström AM, Edman G, Uvnäs-Moberg K (2000) Changes in personality pattern during the first pregnancy and lactation. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 21:31–38PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sjögren B, Edman G, Widström AM, Mathiesen AS, Uvnäs-Moberg K (2004) Maternal foetal attachment and personality during first pregnancy. J Reprod Inf Psychol 22:57–69Google Scholar
  24. Uvnäs-Moberg K, Widström AM, Nissen E, Björvell H (1990) Personality traits in women 4 days postpartum and their correlation with plasma levels of oxytocin and prolactin. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 11:261–273Google Scholar
  25. Uvnäs-Moberg K, Ahlenius S, Hillegaart V, Alster P (1994) High doses of oxytocin cause sedation and low doses cause an anxiolytic-like effect in male rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 49:101–106PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Wiklund I, Edman G, Larsson C, Andolf E (2006) Personality and mode of delivery. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 85:1225–1230PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Williams GL, Gazal OS, Leshin LS, Stanko RL, Anderson LL (2001) Physiological regulation of maternal behavior in heifers: roles of genital stimulation, intracerebral oxytocin release, and ovarian steroids. Biol Reprod 65:295–300PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Jonas
    • 1
  • E. Nissen
    • 1
    • 2
  • A. B. Ransjö-Arvidson
    • 1
  • A. S. Matthiesen
    • 1
  • K. Uvnäs-Moberg
    • 3
  1. 1.Division for Reproductive and Perinatal Health Care, Department of Women and Child HealthKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesUniversity of SkövdeSkövdeSweden
  3. 3.Department of Animal Environment and HealthSwedish University of AgricultureSkaraSweden

Personalised recommendations