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Health

A Mother's Touch

Good parents can change children's DNA.

By Victor LimjocoMay 12, 2006 5:00 AM

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Be grateful to your mom. Not only did she carry you around for nine months, but now new research suggests that her mothering style may have triggered genes that help determine your parenting style.

Columbia University neurobiologist Frances Champagne says that previous research across species showed that maternal behaviors are passed down from mother to daughter.

"So if your mother held you a lot, you will hold your infants a lot," Champagne says. 

But she wanted to know whether mothering tendencies are passed on through genetics or experience. Her team studied mother rats that spent time licking and grooming their babies, and others that didn't.

As she wrote in the journal "Endocrinology," without enough licking and grooming, female rats had certain genes turn off, preventing the production of certain hormones key to future mothering behaviors, including estrogen and oxytocin, also known as the love hormone.

Licked rats had a higher production of those hormones, which, in turn, affected behavior when these baby rats became mothers themselves. Champagne says that this combination, genes and environment, pass maternal behaviors from generation to generation.

Champagne notes that maternal behavior is complex and that a mother's touch is just one part of a larger puzzle. But she says that these results highlight the need for bonding early in life. "Mothers are incredibly important," she says. "The quality of care that they can provide to infants is crucial for shaping infant development. And will have consequences for the next generation of mothers and infants."

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