Bonding is a word that did not really mean anything other than adhesive in our language until the early 1970s when a couple of doctors got together and decided to study what moms and babies did together.
Until then we had vague notions of what babies could or couldn't experience at birth, but generally saw the baby as more of a property than the thinking, feeling being we know they are today. Dr. Marshall Klaus and his wife, Phyllis, wrote an incredible book around this time, The Amazing Newborn.
This book delved into the studies of Dr. Klaus and his associate, Dr. John Kennell, and the work of others such as Ashley Montagu and Michael Odent. It was a book for parents about the wonders and amazement of their new babies. This information gave us proof that our babies indeed were hearing us and seeing us, that they were neither blind nor deaf at birth. It also started a revolution of change.
The concept of bonding has come a long way in 25 years. We now look at practices in obstetrics that needlessly interfere with bonding: separation of the mother and baby, lack of family centered maternity care, delay in breastfeeding, even something as simply as immediate eye medication, and many other procedures that are falling by the wayside. Bonding has become a slogan for hospitals and birth centers to advertise.
The news that babies responded to those around them was not really news to parents. They had always known that their baby could pick them out of a crowd, or would quiet when spoken to in a certain way. Parents knew the baby, just as the baby knew them. In studies it was universally found that babies loved the high-pitched voices, and in six different cultures it was seen that when talking to a baby parents used falsetto voices and "baby talk," no matter what their native tongue. It all boiled down to instinct.
We now know that babies can hear from as early as sixteen weeks gestation. What they hear and when they hear it, will determine how they respond to that sound. For example, typically anything heard repeatedly before six months of pregnancy and the baby will learn to sleep through this noise. Repeated sounds after the seventh month will be paid attention. So, if you've been reading the baby a bed time story during the latter part of pregnancy, or dad has been talking to the baby, chances are that baby will want to hear it again.
The Klaus' described how the baby reacts to the parents, how she or he has quiet alert states and learns and responds to the environment. Using these quiet alert states, and the receptiveness of the little ones, we were able to "bond" with this baby, to grow together in a relationship.
For many this process begins before birth, during the prenatal period, and for others it begins before conception. Prenatal bonding has become very important.
We spend time picking out names to call the baby during the pregnancy, adorable names like Cletus the Fetus, Thing 1 and Thing 2 (twins), peanut, etc. Some even enroll their child in classes to learn prenatally. We take part in our prenatal care, more so than our parents were able to do. We simply know more about the prebirth life of our babies. Ultrasound provides us with a window to the womb, and genetic testing provides us with answers about potential complications and gender. Many women and men keep journals of the pregnancy, almost like a precursor to the baby book.
In many ways we have a head start on bonding with these babies. Although some may argue that we know too much and take the natural mystery away or allow us to become bonded to a baby that isn't really what we expected (A girl when you expected a boy, etc.). Either way the babies are precious to us and we are privileged to know as much as we do about their prebirth world.