A sweet bundle of gurgles and coos? A vulnerable, innocent with wide impressionable eyes? Or perhaps, more thoughtfully, you wonder who this little person will be and what they might become. Without a doubt, there is a mixture of emotion and thought as new parents meet their little one for the first time. As the primary caregivers, parents have such an incredible influence on the newborn in its first few weeks and months.
From the first moment the baby is given to his mother to hold, a special bond is created. Baby looks at mother for the first time, mother smiles back. Yet there is more going on here than meets the eye; there is actually a bio-chemical reaction going on within this very first interaction.
The hormone, oxytocin—also called the “love hormone”—is at its highest just after birth. It promotes bonding between mother and baby. It also influences the production of vasopressin in the father, a hormone encouraging him to bond with mother and child just after birth. This hormone influences the father's brain towards more paternal tendencies when the child's mother and he cohabitate, tempering his aggression and influencing his protective instincts.
In ancient days, the bonding of the baby with its parents actually increased the infant’s chances for survival. It also helped the baby to thrive. Perhaps we are not so far removed from our ancestors after all...
Parents seem bio-chemically wired to respond to their infants, while infants are naturally wired to respond in their own fashion, having the ability—even at the earliest stages of life—to interact with their caregivers and environment. Parents who are sensitive to their infant’s cues are able to lay the most fundamental foundation in their child’s life—all by simply interacting. This foundation will enhance the infant’s ability for responding to new situations, for socialization, and for the very essence of learning. These essential moments, completed in the brain through neural connections, establish the child’s capacity to form attachments. During those early interactions, that capacity is either established or hindered.
Infants who established that core connection through touch, receiving the security and soothing of their mothers during the process, have less of a stress response when given immunizations.
Studies with primates show the same results. A baby monkey who had access to its mother for touch and soothing while receiving a vaccination had a better physiological response to the vaccination.
Children at two years of age—who were observed to have a close bonding experience with their mothers—needed fewer commands, asked more questions, and had a more elaborate and descriptive vocabulary.
My world is safe. My needs are being met. I am loveable and loved. I have value and am valued. There is good and I am good. This lays the foundation for attachment, self-regulation, and relationships. It forms the basis for the child’s identity and concept of self later in life.
Melanie has been a nurse for over 25 years, most recently focusing her work on NICU patients.