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Mother-Infant Bonding

Written by Jock Doubleday   
Friday, 27 June 2008 10:30
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Bonding is for ducks. You're not having a duck, are you?

These words, offered to one mother-to-be by her obstetrician, besides showing an astonishing dearth of sympathy, a grand capacity for condescension, and a complete lack of familiarity with three decades of medical literature showing the benefits of bonding, comprise an outright error in grammar. The poor fellow meant "imprinting," not bonding. (One wonders if there are cesarean-delivered babies following this research- and grammar-challenged obstetrician around this very minute.

In its infant days, bonding was considered by science to be a substanceless, feel-good concept conjured out of thin air by drug-dazed hippies to justify hugging people, "hanging out," and having sex. Things have changed. There has come to be a general acceptance in the scientific (but not the hospital obstetric) community of the fact and benefits of bonding.

Although we live in a technological age in which all things, including human beings, are seen as machines reducible to component parts, bonding, a mysterious and seemingly irreducible process, has gained credence--a friendly ghost-seed growing somehow in the antiseptic soil of the birth machine.

As with all mammals, in the first hours after birth you and your baby are meant literally to attach to one another. Nature gives new mothers a very strong attachment desire. Many new mothers say they physically "ache" for their babies when they are away from them. One woman described the feeling as "a calling on the soft of my arms." This calling is a physical yearning that, if allowed to be satisfied, starts a physical process with physical results highly beneficial to both mother and baby.

We should not be surprised that nature's plan for skin-to-skin contact with your baby gives physically measurable results by multitudinous measures. Bonding with your baby reduces the probability of mental illness in her later life, increases her IQ, and is highly correlated with improved coordination, exploratory behavior, and a decrease in aggressive tendencies.

Bonding increases your child's confidence, allowing and encouraging a healthy independence at the appropriate time in her later life. Your bonded baby will be less likely to be socially withdrawn. She will have greater curiosity than the unbonded child and more sympathy for the distress of others.

"Incomplete bonding," on the other hand, in the words of Judith Goldsmith,author of Childbirth Wisdom from the World's Oldest Societies, "can lead to confusion, depression, incompetence, and even rejection of the child by the mother."

Though infant-mother bonding is now widely recognized by researchers (and mothers who have bonded with their babies) as crucial to the success of the mother-infant relationship and to the success of the child herself, this news has not reached the ears of the staff at certain hospitals around this continent.There is some talk in the hospitals about bonding, these days-among nurses, Certified Nurse Midwives, and even young doctors--but talking about bonding and actually allowing women to bond with their newborns are two different things.