Separation anxiety, attachment and inter-personal representations: Disentangling the role of oxytocin in the perinatal period

Valsamma Eapen*, Mark Dadds, Bryanne Barnett, Jane Kohlhoff, Feroza Khan, Naomi Radom, Derrick M. Silove

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, we aimed to assess cross-sectionally and longitudinally associations between disturbances in maternal early attachment experiences, symptoms of separation anxiety and depression and oxytocin plasma levels. We examined a mediational model that tested the hypothesis that anxious attachment style arising from the mothers' early bonding experiences with her own parents was associated with high levels of separation anxiety which, via its impact on depression, was associated with reduced levels of oxytocin in the postnatal period. Data is reported on a structured sample of 127 women recruited during pregnancy from a general hospital antenatal clinic and an initial follow up cohort of 57 women who were re-assessed at 3-months post-partum. We found an association between lower oxytocin level in the post partum period and symptoms of separation anxiety and depression during pregnancy, as well as maternal negative interpersonal representations, upbringing attributes and anxious attachment style. Further meditational analysis revealed that the unique association between anxious attachment and depression is mediated by separation anxiety and that depressed mood mediated the relationship between separation anxiety and oxytocin. In conjunction with evidence from the literature suggesting that lower oxytocin level is associated with bonding difficulties, our findings have significant implications for understanding the biological processes underpinning adverse attachment experiences, negative affect state, and motherto-infant bonding difficulties.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere107745
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


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