Robert Frost, Ph.D., ERGObaby Executive Chairman, Retired
Karin Frost, ERGObaby Founder and Chief Design Officer
Babies arrive with all the necessary tools to bond quickly with their mothers and fathers, but most quickly with their mothers because the process already began in the womb. At that stage they learned to recognize their mother’s voice and her smell. Of the five senses, sight has the most to be developed. There is general agreement among the experts that when babies are born, parts of their visual systems are well developed, but they can only see the general outline of objects within 8 to 12 inches and will respond best to black and white such as a checker board. That is partly because their brains have not become accustomed to the visual stimuli; however they rapidly develop that ability. Within the first four weeks of birth visual acuity increases from 20/400 to 20/60 compared to the adult 20/20 (the first 20 is the distance from a chart of letters and the second number is the size of the letters on the chart).
Of the five senses, the baby’s sense of smell is the most acute. Even in the womb, research shows that babies can smell their mother’s amniotic fluid. After birth they rapidly recognize their mother by her specific smell. Within a day or two after birth they can distinguish between their mother’s milk and that of another.
The ability to hear and recognize soothing sounds is also immediately available to babies, and to sense and form judgments about their surroundings. The mother’s or father’s quiet singing is recognized and makes the baby happy. In fact research shows that sounds that the baby hears during the last few months in the womb are recognized after birth.
There is also research substantiating that touch is a very important sense used by both the baby and mother to bring pleasure. The skin-to-skin relationship between mother and baby stimulates the production of the hormone oxytocin (the cuddle chemical), which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and calm in each.
How does all this relate to bonding? When babies arrive, we need to be aware and sensitive to the fact that they are in survival mode. They are completely dependent on their mother or other care givers for their wellbeing. We know their brains are working overtime to make sense of all the new stimuli. Breastfeeding, touching, holding, carrying, comforting, rocking, singing and talking to the newborn is critical to their feeling of security, and security is the foundation for normal development and bonding. The more we stimulate these senses in a pleasurable way, the stronger the developing bond.
Holding and carrying your baby face-to-face within 8 to 12 inches during the first four months will help to develop the baby’s sight as well as their sense of security. This will also strengthen the foundation for exploration that is a natural part of the baby’s development.