The science behind that special bond with your child

However close you are to your mother, it’s not until you become a mum yourself that you fully comprehend how special that bond is between mother and child. This month we’re celebrating Mother’s Day and the magic circle of love between mothers and children.

The mother-child bond may change over the years but its strength never fades. As the saying goes, “We hold our children in our arms for a little while, and in our hearts forever.” In fact, research has shown that the bond between mums and children is a complex physiological process that engages not just our hearts, but our brains and every part of our bodies – and all so that we are primed to nurture our children, who are born utterly dependent on us.

Love before first sight

Your baby develops a bond with you even before birth. Studies show that your baby’s heart will beat a little faster at the sound of your voice and they are aware of touch and movement too while in the womb. ‘Nine before it’s time’, are nine simple tips mums-to-be can do to promote that bond and encourage babies’ healthy mental and emotional development in the womb. The activities suggested by Barnardo’s include talking, singing and stroking your baby bump; all help your unborn baby feel soothed and secure, ready to recognise you and your voice and touch on the outside world.

Love is a drug

As your due date nears, your brain starts producing more and more oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’, preparing you to connect with your baby. This explains the euphoria that many women feel even after an exhausting labour. That said, there are many reasons why women don’t bond instantly with their babies – stress, post-partum depression, illness coping with a colicky or unsettled baby or the demands of older children and, of course, there are mums who adopt – but that bond with your child will still happen given time.

Dopamine, the happy hormone, plays an important role in early bonding too. Every time you gaze into your baby’s eyes and snuggle, you both get a rush of this ‘reward’ chemical that helps you attach to each other and crave more of this closeness. Thanks to this amazing cuddle connection, premature babies who were stroked and given skin-to skin contact (known as kangaroo care) gained nearly 50% more weight than those who were left in incubators.

Scent and smiles

There’s a reason why the nape of your baby’s neck and the top of their heads smells so wonderful. Research has shown that babies also secrete pheromones, ensuring that we’re smitten by them. In one study 90% of mums were able to identify their newborns by scent alone after as little as 10 minutes with them.
Your baby’s smile is the reward for those first weeks – and a promise of things to come. One study found that when mums looked at pictures of their own baby, their brain lit up in areas associated with dopamine – and even more so when they saw of their babies smiling.

This magic circle of love continues through your child’s growing years and beyond, as you respond to each other’s emotional, physical and mental cues. Even when your toddler is throwing a tantrum, s/he’s doing it because he’s so secure in your love s/he can display disappointment and fury over small frustrations. As your child grows in independence, they’ll still want to return to the reassurance of being close to their mum.