The Science Behind Baby Bonding
How the chemical connection a mom has with her baby within the first hour of birth sets the tone for their relationship and helps determine the future emotional and physical health of the child
Turning genes on and off certainly sounds like snake-oil-salesman-speak, but it's actually an emerging science called epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of how one's environment -- what you eat, where you live and, yes, the strength of your bond with your parents or caregivers -- can physically alter certain genes, for better or for worse. A study last year of 15,000 adults who experienced childhood trauma, such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, found that such traumatic stress imparted to them a 70 to 100 percent increased risk of hospitalization for certain autoimmune disorders, including Graves' disease, Crohn's disease, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Chances are you're already worrying about your baby aplenty (Is he eating enough? Is he getting enough sleep?), but don't add to the list fretting over the number of minutes you're holding your newborn. It's not as if the half-hour your baby spent in a bouncy seat while you -- God forbid -- took a shower is going to make her sickly. The studies cited deal mostly with extremes, often involving subjects who received zero TLC. That, of course, is not likely to happen in your house.
It's the quality of the care, not the quantity, that matters, says Dr. Chopra. So don't feel like you need to be glued to your rocker, holding your tot close day and night. In fact, ignoring your own needs in favor of your baby's won't do either of you any good. "A mom needs time to herself to recharge," he says. "Otherwise, she won't be able to give her baby the quality of attention he needs." Solicit support from your partner, family and friends so that you can enjoy the closeness with your baby rather than come to resent it.
If you have yet to give birth, do your best to take advantage of those first moments (aka "the golden hour"). According to the AAP, you should feel comfortable enough to ask the nurse to delay routine newborn administrations such as the vitamin K shot and eye ointment so you can hold your baby and allow her to move toward your breast for her first feeding. Avoid covering yourself up, so that your newborn can lick or suck your nipple (if you plan to breastfeed) and you can both enjoy the skin-to-skin contact during those first few minutes.
If I had known about the golden hour before my C-section, I might have asked the doctors to let me hold my babies longer. Or maybe I wouldn't have. I was so exhausted, overwhelmed and relieved that drifting off for a minute sounded pretty good at the time. Plus, my boys are (natch) the healthiest, handsomest, smartest guys around, and I'm pretty sure they love me. My conscience is clean. After all, the news about bonding should be empowering, not overwhelming, says Dr. Chopra. Simply gazing into your new baby's eyes or curling and uncurling the fingers on her tight little fists is far from time wasted. In fact, it's an opportunity to start your baby on a healthy track that will, hopefully, guide her through the rest of her life.