Bonding between mother and child

I work as a nurse in a maternity ward in the hospital.

It is a privilege for me to be frequently present at the very beginning of the birth of a human being. I already once wrote something about this special event.

It is found on this website under: motherhood: the birth.


Now I want to share something about the first time that mother and child are getting to know each other. This is very important for the development of the child.

The information comes from a fascinating lecture by Professor Melly Oitzil, who wrote various scientific studies about the importance of bonding of a newborn baby and his mother.

Prof. Melly Oitzil did much research on this subject and she shares her knowledge in this field.

I have a small summary of what she has taught us at a meeting at my work.


The behavior of bonding is innate.

Bonding itself is a learning process that starts in the womb and rapidly develops in newborns by environmental influences.

Smell and touch are after birth the most developed senses.

Touch – stroking, caressing and skin contact – regulates bodily functions and the development of the brains.

At certain stages there is a greater sensitivity to stress.

Predictable behavior of mother / guardians therein is of great importance.


Natural scents of the mother are important for the behavior of the newborn baby.


– They have a preference for certain odors: amniotic fluid, smell of the mother and mother milk.

The sucking reflex is improved if the smell is familiar to the child: skin, milk, etc.

– The newborn can learn new fragrances: e.g. chamomile scent, with the breast of the mother is associated, e.g. chamomile in ointments for the chest. All fragrances, which were associated with the mother, for the baby are a signal for safety.


Sensitive period for learning bonding from birth until day 9.

In rodents learning bonding is till day 9.

In humans, the period of bonding goes further, but the start is in the first days after birth.

The brains of the baby determine the behavior. Brains are still developing after birth and therefore, even a scent with unpleasant stimuli brings mother and child closer together!

In the interest of the newborn is the attachment to the source of food and heat very important through skin contact.


In the first days and years are the brains and the stress system developing.

At certain stages, the activity of the stress system are low (low stress hormones), so the brains can flourish and develop.

One of these “sensitive stages” are in the first weeks after birth.


The frequency, mode and the pattern (the predictability) of the behavior of the mother influence and change the development of the brains.


Poor living conditions in the first 10 days after birth can be the cause at a later age of`:

• Change of brain cells and connections

• More anxiety

• Worse learning


Skin contact ensures:

-Stable body temperature, pulse, respiration and digestion, quiet sleep, less crying, grow faster, experience less pain from routine procedures.

-Skin contact has positive effects on the neurophysiological adaptations of the newborn to the post-regional environment.

-Babies with much skin contact exhibit with 3, 6 and 12 months improved responses to stimuli exciting, exploring their environment intensively, play more and be more alert to social stimuli. Cognitive and socio-emotional development have been progressing.

Newborns learn that their reactions are related to the reaction of the caregiver.



• Odor Perception is well developed in newborns. Fragrances are already taught in the womb.

• Just after birth, new scents in conjunction with diet and touch are taught.

• Learning from odors at such a young age occurs in all mammals. It is extremely important for the survival of newborns and it is the ‘starting point’ for bonding.

• At the time of the “sensitive stages” of development, the stress system kept in check by touch: skin contact promotes growth, socio-emotional bonding and brain functions.

• Predictability of the behavior of the parent / guardians is extremely important for the baby.

• Animal studies show that little touch in the first days of life is the cause of behavioral and emotional disorders in later life.


Scientific findings practice?

• Mothers and caregivers are aware of the fact that:

– ‘Super-hygiene’ and disinfectants are counterproductive for the newborn baby

-Their own body odor and especially eating the same food as during pregnancy help to facilitate early lactation.

• Babies can learn odors that occur in combination with diet and touch quickly.

• This knowledge can also be used in infant formula or the transition from breast to bottle feeding.

• A rigid sequence of actions by taking care of the baby should be without much interruptions to ensure peace and predictability.

• Touch is of enormous importance for the development of body and brains. Therefore it is very important that there is skin contact between newborn and mother.



Many of these things will happen automatically if you have a sweet little baby to hold. But unfortunately at my work I experience many people that have never learned these things.

Because of the extreme importance for the development of the newborn children I pass this on so that little babies shall have a good start.

Thanks to Melly Oitzil (Professor Cognitive Neurobiology)