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Keywords:

  • Approach–withdrawal responses;
  • hormonal basis;
  • maternal behavior;
  • transition period

Psychobiological studies of maternal behavior among non-primate mammals have arrived at several general conclusions that may aid in our understanding of human maternal behavior and in the clinical treatment of parenting disorders. The hormonal basis of maternal behavior arises during pregnancy and consists of a hormonal priming phase, extending over most of pregnancy, and a hormonal triggering phase at the end of pregnancy. Hormonal priming in several species depends upon estrogen, progesterone and prolactin, and hormonal triggering depends upon a decline in progesterone and an increase in estrogen, prolactin and oxytocin in different species. The onset of maternal behavior is hormonally based but postpartum maternal behavior in several species is based upon the stimulation that the mother receives from her young (i.e. is non-hormonally based). There is a transition period between these two phases soon after parturition during which contact with the young plays a crucial role in the maintenance of maternal behavior. The onset of maternal behavior may be viewed as the resolution of conflict between approach and withdrawal responses of females to their offspring.