• oxytocin;
  • salivary neuropeptides;
  • lactation;
  • enzyme immunoassay


Oxytocin is a neuropeptide with widespread influence on many physiological and social functions including: labor and birth, lactation, sexual behavior, nurturing maternal behaviors, and stress reduction. However, our understanding of oxytocin's roles has been hampered by lack of noninvasive methods for assessing oxytocin levels. The goal of the present study was to assess whether oxytocin could be detected in saliva and whether changes occurred in the pattern of oxytocin release among lactating women from before, at initiaton and after breast feeding. Using a prospective repeated measures design, 11 research participants each provided 18 saliva samples during three feeding cycles (before, at initiation and after breast feeding) for two 24-hr data collection periods (Days 1 and 2). Within each day, saliva was collected at late evening, early morning, and late morning. Salivary samples were concentrated fourfold by dehydration prior to analysis and oxytocin was measured in saliva using an enzyme immunoassay (EIA). Salivary oxytocin values, when reconverted to their original levels, ranged from 6.44 to 61.05 pg/ml. Oxytocin values in saliva varied significantly as a function of the breast feeding cycle, but did not show reliable differences as a function of the time of feeding. Oxytocin was highest before feeding, followed by a decrease at initiation of feeding, and an increase at 30 min after feeding. The findings suggest that oxytocin release into saliva increases in anticipation of feedings. This study also supports the potential usefulness of salivary measures of oxytocin as a noninvasive index of changes in this peptide. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev. Psychobiol 51: 367–373, 2009.