Mother-child bond: bonding after birth

“Bonding” describes the intensive relationship that develops between parents and child. Bonding is now a high priority in many hospitals. Clinics that promote this loving contact shortly after birth are awarded the “Baby-Friendly Hospital” seal by UNICEF and the WHO (World Health Organization). Find out here how bonding occurs and how doctors and midwives support this process.

What does “bonding” mean?

The English term “bonding” describes the intimate relationship that develops between mother, father and child during pregnancy. Shortly after  birth , this feeling is intensified by physical closeness, warmth, movement and eye contact. Nature particularly promotes the mother-child bond. For example, during milk production  , bonding hormones are released that support this process. But of course a father can also develop a close and intensive bond. Bonding isn’t just an issue for women.

Does bonding develop shortly after birth?

For a long time, researchers assumed that the bond between parents and child develops in the first few hours after birth. This hypothesis is based on observations on sheep and goats. Ewes and goats accepted their children without any problems if they spent the hours after birth with them. If this did not take place, they rejected the small animals. If you put other young animals into their care immediately after birth, they took care of these “stepchildren” just as well as their own. The ability to bond is hypothesized to be related to contact immediately after birth.

The Swiss pediatrician Remo Largo, among others, emphasized that this statement must be qualified. In his book Baby Years, Largo explains that human attachment is not a “time-bound reflex.” If, for medical or other reasons, it is not possible for them to be together after the birth, for example due to a caesarean section or adoption, this does not affect the parent-child relationship.

Conversely, direct contact after birth is no guarantee of a deep mother-child bond. Many mothers are exhausted after giving birth and have to process the new situation first. So you don’t need to feel guilty if you don’t feel like a mother right away. In the next few days you will get to know the little creature in your arms better and you can develop an intimate relationship in peace.

Bonding in the delivery room

After the birth in the delivery roomthe baby is dried off and covered warmly and laid on the mother’s bare skin immediately after birth. Here it feels for the first time their warmth and security. Mother and father can concentrate undisturbed on the newborn. Only a midwife can provide loving support and help if necessary. Before bonding, breathing, pulse, basic tone, appearance and reflexes must be checked. There is usually time later for measuring, weighing and washing procedures. The child is usually breastfed for the first time even before the examinations. More and more hospitals are attaching great importance to bonding, as the mutual feeling, smell, taste and hearing between mother and baby creates an initial social bond. Parents and child also spend as much time as possible together on the maternity ward and later at home,

Bonding after caesarean section or premature birth

In order to give mothers who give birth by caesarean section time with their baby and thus the opportunity for an early bond, the mothers are only given local anesthesia. In contrast to general anesthesia, you are then awake the whole time. The baby can be shown to you immediately after birth. First experiences together are then also possible. The father often plays a special role in the caesarean birth. He can have the baby put on his chest until the mother comes out of the operating room. After that, the new mother can also make initial contact with her child. As described above, there is no time limit here. In this way you can build the same relationship as in a natural birth.

In the event of complications or a premature birth , it is sometimes not possible to leave the baby with the mother immediately after birth. The health care of the child has priority and many parents fear that contact with their child will be neglected. This is where the so-called “kangaroos” come in handy, a method that promotes the parent-child relationship, especially in premature babies. The newborn is laid on the mother’s stomach or breast for one to two hours a day and is kept warm by towels. Like a kangaroo in a pouch, it can snuggle up to its mother, hear her heartbeat and enjoy the warmth. The direct skin contact helps the infants in their development, ensures relaxation and gives parents and child the chance to get to know each other.

Benefits of Early Commitment

Establishing a bond early on has a positive effect on both the parents and the child. On the one hand, the security of the parents in dealing with this new creature lying in their arms is strengthened. On the other hand, babies are calmer and fewer breastfeeding problems occur when mother and baby turn to each other intensively and tenderly after birth.

But even if the bond is only built up over time, this has no negative consequences for the child. You just have to get used to each other. Don’t put yourself under pressure and take your time. Later, however, the relationship and bond between parents and child is the central building block of child development. The child’s basic trust, which is supported by this bond, determines whether your child goes through life confidently, cheerfully and curiously. If you still have the feeling after a few weeks that you cannot bond with your child, you should definitely talk to your midwife or doctor about it and possibly consult an expert. They can help you and advise you.

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