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The scientific journey from attraction to attachment and lasting love

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Valentine's Day is this week, and instead of anticipating a day of surprises and delight, we may find ourselves too tired or busy to make room for the celebration of our love that every media outlet says we should enjoy. Up to our eyeballs in kids, toys, tasks and poop, we might look at our partner and wonder just how we got here, those days of giddy longing seemingly eons behind us.


It may be hard to believe now, but those days are not gone forever.

Through the journey of love, we can reignite passion and desire along the way with a little understanding, focus and effort—and we can remain as madly in love as empty nesters as we were in the days before we became parents.

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Love is what keeps us together

Love is nature's amazing way of keeping us interested in our partner long after the baby is made. According to Dr. Richard Schwartz, a Harvard Medical School associate professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., “There's good reason to suspect that romantic love is kept alive by something basic to our biological nature."

Love involves a very complex and integrated dance between stimuli and its effects on our body and brain. There's a veritable soup of chemicals and hormones swishing around inside of us that sends information back and forth between our glands and organs, and that control, to a degree, how we feel and act.

But falling and being in love are two different things.

According to Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, there are three distinct stages of love which are driven by the hormones and chemicals that play a role in how we feel in love, as we progress through our relationship—desire and attraction give way to the attachment that ensures the best outcome for our offspring, and over the course of time, these phases of love change our brain and body for the better.

Desire

Whether it was love at first sight or a friendship that took a turn toward the romantic with that first whiff of smokey desire, lust probably had a hand in sparking the relationship we now enjoy.

Lust can be defined as our need to reproduce, as manifested in the desire for sexual gratification. In our brain, the hypothalamus plays a significant role in this, stimulating the production of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen from the testes and ovaries, respectively.

Though characterized as the male hormone, testosterone increases libido in both men and women. And women enjoy an extra boost of sexy with a spike in sexual desire around the time of ovulation when estrogen levels are highest. Estrogen can increase confidence in appearance “by prompting subtle shifts in soft tissue that make…facial features slightly more symmetrical," says Gabrielle Lichterman, speaker and author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods and Potential.

Attraction

Attraction involves the brain pathways that control “reward" behavior, which partly explains why the first few weeks or months of a relationship can be so exhilarating and all-consuming.

Remember the first time you laid eyes on your partner? Or those early days when all you could do was think about him or her, to the exclusion of all other things reasonable and necessary?

Well, we are not singular in this incapacitation, as studies have shown that early, hot love is associated with intense changes in emotion and attention, as well as reduced cognitive control that results in impaired ability to perform daily tasks, like study and work.

We crave them like an addict

When we fall in love, chemicals associated with the reward circuit flood our brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses—fluttery hearts, rosy cheeks, sweaty palms and moments of euphoria, passion and anxiety. Love triggers our glands and organs to surge the hormones into our bloodstream that are responsible for these intense feelings.

Research has shown that falling in love activates the same system in the brain and triggers the same sensation of euphoria experienced by people when they take cocaine. Other researchers from Syracuse University reveal in an article in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, called “The Neuroimaging of Love," that several euphoria-inducing chemicals, like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, are released in the brain, activating the brain's opioid system in the same way heroin and opioid painkillers do.

The adrenaline released in the initial stages of falling for someone activates our stress response, increasing our blood levels of cortisol. This is why when we run into our crush or new beau, we start to sweat, our heart races and our mouth goes dry.

High levels of dopamine are released during attraction, and newly in love couples often show signs of surging dopamine—increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and immense delight in all the details of the new relationship.

Dopamine, produced by the hypothalamus, is a neurotransmitter that helps control our brain's reward and pleasure centers. It helps regulate emotional responses and enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. It's released when we do things that feel good to us, like spending time with our beloved and having sex.

Most types of rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs also increase dopamine neuronal activity.

“Romantic love is one of the most addictive substances on Earth… My guess is that our modern addictions—nicotine, drugs, sex, gambling—are simply hijacking this ancient brain pathway that evolved millions of years ago, that evolved for romantic love," says Dr. Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love.

Research supports that when we are newly in love, we have a lot more cortisol in our bloodstream, which helps our bodies cope with the “crisis" of love, but depletes the neurotransmitter serotonin, a hormone that's known to be involved in appetite and mood.

This can bring on the “intrusive, maddeningly preoccupying thoughts, hopes, terrors of early love," as described by Schwartz. Other studies have also associated the effects of attraction with the low serotonin levels that also occur in obsessive-compulsive disorder, helping to explain the cravings, obsessive thoughts and desire to spend every moment with your partner.

In an Italian study, it was demonstrated that attraction could change the way we think. Dr. Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa, studied 20 couples who'd been madly in love for less than six months “to see if the brain mechanisms that cause us to think about our lover constantly are related to the brain mechanisms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder." By analyzing blood samples from the 20 couples, Dr. Marazziti discovered that serotonin levels of new lovers were equivalent to the low serotonin levels of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) patients.

There's a reason why love is blind

When we are newly in love and extremely attracted to each other, we tend to idealize our relationship, finding perfection in each other. This is because the hormones involved in these feelings of love also deactivate the neural pathway responsible for negative emotions, like fear and social judgment, effectively shutting down our ability to critically assess our partner.

Psychologists think we need this foggy lens to help us want to stay together, so we can enter the next stage of love. First comes love, then comes...

Attachment

Attachment is the bond that keeps us together long enough for us to have and raise children. While lust and attraction are pretty much exclusive to early love, attachment is the main factor in long-term relationships, mediating friendships, parent-infant bonding, social bonds, and many other close relationships. The two primary hormones at work are oxytocin and vasopressin.

Like dopamine, oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released in large quantities during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth—the common factor being all of these events are precursors to bonding. Oxytocin is also known as the love, or “cuddle," hormone, and when released invokes feelings of contentment, calmness and security. Heightened by skin-to-skin contact, oxytocin is released by men and women during orgasm, establishing the theory that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes.

Vasopressin is another important hormone in the long-term commitment stage of relationships and is released after sex directly into the brain from the hypothalamus—as a vasoconstrictor, it is responsible for the postcoital glow and has a significant role in the social behavior that produces long-term, monogamous relationships.

The differences in behavior associated with the effects of oxytocin and vasopressin can explain why passionate love fades as attachment grows.

Lasting love

When love lasts, “the wild ride of emotions mellows within years," says Schwartz. “The passion is still there, but the stress of it is gone," he adds. Cortisol and serotonin levels return to normal. Love, which began as a stressor (to our brains and bodies, at least), actually then becomes a buffer against stress.

Brain areas associated with reward and pleasure are still activated as loving relationships proceed, but the constant craving and desire that are inherent in romantic love often decrease. “Many theories of love," says Schwartz, “propose that there is an inevitable change over time from passionate love to what is typically called compassionate love—love that is deep but not as euphoric as that experienced during the early stages of romance."

This does not, however, mean that the spark of romance is no longer there for long-married couples.

Thinking of our partners can yield a greater sense of social connection to and care for them by activating our brain's empathy and emotion-processing centers, while also reducing activity in brain areas associated with self-focused thought. And research supports this theory in that the more we think of others first, the better we get at it, since our brains respond by growing more neurons in those areas that are associated with processing emotion.

So the more we love, the more empathetic and able to process emotions we become, changing our brain structure for better and for life.

A 2011 study conducted at Stony Brook University, New York, found that it is possible to be madly in love with someone after decades of marriage. Researchers found similar activity in specific brain regions among longtime, happily married couples, and among couples who had recently fallen in love.

The research team at Stonybrook performed MRI scans on couples who had been married an average of 21 years. They found the same intensity of activity in dopamine-rich areas of the brains as seen in the brains of couples who were newly in love. The study suggested that the excitement of romance can remain while the apprehension is lost.

The study also found that for those of us whose marriage seems to have transitioned from passionate, romantic love to a more compassionate, routine type of love, due to the daily grind and mental load, it appears that it is possible to rekindle the flame that burned so hot during our early days. All we need to do is have more sex.

Sexual intercourse can increase oxytocin levels and activate the brain's reward circuit, making couples desire each other more.

According to an article in Psychology Today, we experience intense romantic love when...

  • We crave union ?
  • We focus our attention on our beloved
  • We have increased energy with them
  • We are motivated to do things that make them happy
  • We are sexually attracted to them and think about them when we are apart

Although the days in this season of life may be long, the nights don't have to be. We can still conjure the heady high that accompanies a racing heart, sweaty palms and hot desire for that love object in front of us. And for the time being, this little hit of lust is the honey on our daily bread, fortifying us when things might get a little stale.

[A version of this article was originally published February 12, 2018.]

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Pop quiz, mama! How many different types of car seats are there? If you guessed three, you're partially correct. The three main types are rear-facing car seats, forward-facing car seats, and booster seats. But then there are a variety of styles as well: infant car seats, convertible seats, all-in-one seats, high-back booster seats, and backless boosters. If you're not totally overwhelmed yet, keep reading, we promise there's good stuff ahead.

There's no arguing that, in the scheme of your baby and child gear buying lifetime, purchasing a car seat is a big deal! Luckily, Walmart.com has everything you need to travel safely with your most precious cargo in the backseat. And right now, you can save big on top-rated car seats and boosters during Best of Baby Month, happening now through September 30 at Walmart.com.

As if that wasn't enough, Walmart will even take the carseat your kiddos have outgrown off your hands for you (and hook you up with a sweet perk, too). Between September 16 and 21, Walmart is partnering with TerraCycle to recycle used car seats. When you bring in an expired car seat or one your child no longer fits into to a participating Walmart store during the trade-in event, you'll receive a $30 gift card to spend on your little one in person or online. Put the money towards a brand new car seat or booster or other baby essentials on your list. To find a participating store check here: www.walmart.com/aboutbestofbabymonth

Ready to shop, mama? Here are the 9 best car seat deals happening this month.


Safety 1st Grow and Go Spring 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

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From rear-facing car seat to belt-positioning booster, Grow and Go Sprint's got you covered through childhood. Whether you choose the grey Silver Lake, Seafarer or pink Camelia color palette, you'll love how this model grows with your little one — not to mention how easy it is to clean. The machine-washable seat pad can be removed without fussing with the harness, and the dual cup holders for snacks and drinks can go straight into the dishwasher.

Price: $134 (regularly $149)

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Baby Trend Hybrid Plus 3-in-1 Booster Car Seat in Bermuda

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When your toddler is ready to face forward, this versatile car seat can be used as a five-point harness booster, a high-back booster, and a backless booster. Padded armrests, harness straps, and seat cushions provide a comfy ride, and the neutral gray seat pads reverse to turquoise for a stylish new look.

Price: $72.00 (regularly $81)

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Baby Trend Hybrid Plus 3-in-1 Booster Car Seat in Olivia

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Looking for something snazzy, mama? This black and hot pink car seat features a playful heart print on its reversible seat pad and soft harness straps. Best of all, with its 100-pound weight limit and three booster configurations, your big kid will get years of use out of this fashionable design.

Price: $72.00 (regularly $81)

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Evenflo Triumph LX Convertible Car Seat

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This rear- and forward-facing car seat keeps kids safer, longer with an adjustable five-point harness that can accommodate children up to 65 lbs. To tighten the harness, simply twist the conveniently placed side knobs; the Infinite Slide Harness ensures an accurate fit every time. As for style, we're big fans of the cozy quilted design, which comes in two colorways: grey and magenta or grey and turquoise.

Price: $116 (regularly $149.99)

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Disney Baby Light 'n Comfy 22 Luxe Infant Car Seat

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Outfitted with an adorable pink-and-white polka dot Minnie Mouse infant insert, even the tiniest of travelers — as small as four pounds! — can journey comfortably and safely. This rear-facing design is lightweight, too; weighing less than 15 lbs, you can easily carry it in the crook of your arm when your hands are full (because chances are they will be).

Price: $67.49 (regularly $89.99)

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Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Convertible Car Seat

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We know it's hard to imagine your tiny newborn will ever hit 100 lbs, but one day it'll happen. And when it does, you'll appreciate not having to buy a new car seat if you start with this 4-in-1 design! Designed to fit kids up to 120 lbs, it transforms four ways, from a rear-facing car seat to a backless belt-positioning booster. With a 6-position recline and a one-hand adjust system for the harness and headrest, you can easily find the perfect fit for your growing child.

Price: $199.99 (regularly $269.99)

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Graco SlimFit All-in-One Convertible Car Seat

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With its unique space-saving design, this 3-in-1 car seat provides 10% more back seat space simply by rotating the dual cup holders. The InRight LATCH system makes installation quick and easy, and whether you're using it as a rear-facing car seat, a forward-facing car seat, or a belt-positioning booster, you can feel confident that your child's safe and comfortable thanks to Graco's Simply Safe Adjust Harness System.

Price: $149.99 (regularly $229.99)

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Graco Snugride Snuglock 35 Platinum XT Infant Car Seat

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Making sure your infant car seat is secure can be tricky, but Graco makes it easy with its one-second LATCH attachment and hassle-free three-step installation using SnugLock technology. In addition to its safety features, what we really love about this rear-facing seat are all of the conveniences, including the ability to create a complete travel system with Click Connect Strollers and a Silent Shade Canopy that expands without waking up your sleeping passenger.

Price: $169.99 (regularly $249.99)

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Graco Snugride Snuglock 35 Elite Infant Car Seat

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With just one click, you can know whether this rear-facing car seat has been installed properly. Then adjust the base four different ways and use the bubble level indicator to find the proper position. When you're out and about, the rotating canopy with window panel will keep baby protected from the sun while allowing you to keep your eye on him.

Price: $129.99 (regularly $219.99)

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This article was sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Having children isn't always as easy as it looks on Instagram. There's so much more to motherhood than serene baby snuggles and matching outfits. But there's a reason we've fallen so deeply in love with motherhood: It's the most beautiful, chaotic ride.

Every single day, we sit back and wonder how something so hard can feel so rewarding. And Eva Mendes just managed to nail the reality of that with one quote.

Eva, who is a mama to daughters Esmerelda and Amada with Ryan Gosling, got real about the messy magic of motherhood in a recent interview.

"It's so fun and beautiful and maddening," the actress tells Access Daily. "It's so hard, of course. But it's like that feeling of…you end your day, you put them to bed and Ryan and I kind of look at each other like, 'We did it, we did it. We came out relatively unscathed.'"

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And just like that, moms all over the world feel seen. We've all been there: Struggling to get through the day (which, for the record is often every bit as fun as it is challenging), only to put those babies to sleep and collapse on the couch in sheer exhaustion. But, after you've caught your breath, you realize just how strong and capable you really are.

One thing Eva learned the hard way? That sleep regressions are very, very real...and they don't just come to an end after your baby's first few months. "I guess they go through a sleep regression, which nobody told me about until I looked it up," she says "I was like, 'Why isn't my 3-year-old sleeping?'"

But, at the end of the day, Eva loves her life as a mom—and the fact that she took a break from her Hollywood career to devote her days to raising her girls. "I'm so thankful I have the opportunity to be home with them," she says.

Thank you for keeping it real, Eva! Momming isn't easy, but it sure is worth it.

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Nannies and early childhood educators do incredibly important work. Parents and children need these workers, they are vital to families and our economy. And they are woefully underpaid.

On average, nannies in the United States make less than Amazon delivery drivers, and day care workers earn less than either.

According to Sittercity's most recent data, the typical hourly rate of nannies in 2019 is $17.50 per hour. According to Amazon, most delivery drivers earn $18 - $25 per hour. And day care workers make only a couple dollars more than they would working in fast food, earning $11.17 per hour on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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What does it say about our society that we value the delivery of consumer goods more than we value care work?

Yes, parents are struggling to pay for childcare, but those caring for our children are struggling to pay their bills, too, and it is hard to retain talented professionals when there is more money to be made in other fields. "It is stressful. Everybody loves these children, and that's why they're there, but the love can't pay their bills," day care operator Danielle Frank told KSNB News this week.

Frank owns Smiling Faces Academy in Kearney, Nebraska, but the problem of high turnover and low wages in the childcare industry is an issue all over the United States. This isn't a uniquely American issue, either. In Japan, day care workers are desperately needed, the New York Times reports, but childcare workers there earn about a third less than workers in other industries and report struggling to cover the basic necessities.

Back in North America, this week day care workers in Nova Scotia, Canada who are frustrated with low wages have threatened to walk off the job, a move similar to one made by YMCA childcare workers in Chicago last year. "I make $15.50 an hour, and I have a BA in early childhood education with a certification in infants and toddlers," childcare worker Tahiti Hamer told WGN last year.

From Nebraska to Nova Scotia to the story is the same: Parents pay a lot for childcare while workers make very little, even though some licensed day cares require employees to have training in early childhood education, or even a bachelor's degree. And when you've got student loans, maybe carrying Amazon packages starts to look better than caring for children.

According to a recent study by the Indeed Hiring Lab, the childcare industry has two big problems right now.

"As the labor market has strengthened in recent years, more workers need child care. At the same time, growth in interest in child care jobs has slowed," Indeed Hiring Lab economist Nick Bunker notes. He suggests low-wage earners who work in childcare have more options these days, and employers should consider raising workers' pay.

It's easy to see why the industry has a hard time keeping workers, especially as other lower-wage job sectors (like Amazon delivery) expand. Unfortunately, for many childcare centers, paying workers more is just not doable without some help from levels of government.

And help is needed, not just to ensure that parents have access to quality, affordable childcare, but also to ensure that those providing it aren't living in poverty.

A study out of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, found childcare workers' earnings are not keeping pace with increases in similar professions or with the costs of childcare and living. "Childcare workers have also experienced no increase in real earnings since 1997, and, as was true in 1989, still earn less than adults who take care of animals, and barely more than fast food cooks. Those who work as preschool teachers have fared somewhat better; their wages have increased by 15 percent in constant dollars since 1997, although their wages remain low. In contrast, parent fees have effectively doubled," the researchers note, highlighting that many childcare workers earn so little they actually qualify for public assistance.

The researchers continue: "While there are no available data to explain this glaring gap between trends in parent fees and teacher wages, it is abundantly clear that families cannot bear the burden of addressing the imperative to provide more equitable compensation for their children's early childhood teachers."

Speaking to the Education Writers Association last year one of the reports' writers, Marcy Whitebook, the founding director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California at Berkeley, said the problem is that our society devalues the work of looking after and educating children under 5, even though it is as demanding and important as teaching those ages 5 and up.

"Americans aren't used to funding early childhood care and instruction like they do K-12 education," Whitebook said. "We don't look at it as education. And we don't look at it as education everyone should have access to."

That may change in the future, as presidential candidates float plans for universal pre-K and childcare, but right now, having access to childcare is a privilege. And those who are privileged enough to employ a nanny should pay them fairly if they want to keep them, says Elizabeth Harz, CEO of Sittercity. "It's also worth noting that when parents are proactive and offer systems and official paperwork that give nannies protection in the relationship, it goes a long way," says Harz.

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It may seem like there are a lot of recalls for kids' products these days, but it's actually a good thing. In some cases, the recalls indicate that companies are being proactive. They're often taking action before the Consumer Products Safety Commission has to get involved, and that's the case for the latest car seat recall.

This week WAYB voluntarily recalled thousands of PICO Travel Car Seats. The lightweight, foldable car seats are a favorite with parents who fly frequently as they're designed for use in cars and planes.

"A small number of customers have experienced a break in the headrest support tubes (the part that connects the headrest to the back of the seat) on their Picos. Each of these customers informed us of the issue directly, and we provided them with a replacement Pico under our warranty policy," the company states.

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There have been no injuries, but "even one warranty replacement of this sort is too many" according to WAYB.

The company says it has reported the issue to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and is working on a recall plan to replace the headrests on affected Picos, free of charge.

If you have questions about your PICO, contact Customer Experience team at 1-888-924-9292 with any questions (phone or text, Monday through Friday, 7am to 4pm Pacific Time), or email us at help@wayb.com.

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There have been a lot of iconic entertainment magazine covers featuring pregnant women over the years. Who can forget Demi Moore's bare baby bump on Vanity Fair or Britney Spears' similar nude pose on Harper's Bazaar?

Pregnant women on a magazine covers is nothing new, but a visibly pregnant CEO on the cover of a business magazine, that's a first and it happened this week.

Inc. just put The Wing's CEO Audrey Gelman on the cover and this is a historic moment in publishing and business.

As Gelman told Today this week, "You can't be what you can't see, so I think it's so important for women to see that it's possible to run a fast-growing business and also to start a family."

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She continued: "It's so important to sort of burst that bubble and to have new images of women who are thriving and working professionally while balancing motherhood … My hope is that women see this and again feel the confidence to take greater professional risks while also not shelving their dreams of becoming a mother and starting a family."

The Wing started in 2016 as a co-working space for women and has grown rapidly. As Inc. reports, The Wing has eight locations in the U.S. with plans for more American and international locations by 2020.

Putting Gelman on the cover was an important move by Inc. and Gelman's honesty about her early pregnancy panic ("I can't be pregnant. I have so much to do." she recalls thinking after her pregnancy test) should be applauded.

Gelman says pregnancy made her slow down physically, and that it was actually good for her company: "I had this realization: The way to make my team and my employees feel proud to work for me and for the company was actually not to pretend to be superhuman or totally unaffected by pregnancy."

We need this. We need CEOs to admit that they are human so that corporate leadership can see employees as humans, too. Humans need things like family leave and flexibility, especially when they start raising little humans.

There are a lot of iconic covers featuring pregnant women, but this one is different. She's wearing clothes and she's changing work culture.

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