Imprinting

The idea of imprinting is easily recognisable when you think of ducklings following mother duck

Imprinting occurs in the first few hours of life and is a form of learning that allows an infant to rapidly recognise its mother, and to adopt the behaviour and characteristics of its parents. It is the result of both environmental and genetic effect. In humans, it is referred to as bonding.

Maternal bonding starts while the mother is pregnant. Hormones such as oxytocin produced after birth and during breastfeeding also help mother bond with her baby. The level of bonding between a mother and her baby varies, with some mothers taking months after birth to bond with their child. This may be because of the conditions leading to the mother’s pregnancy were undesirable, e.g. forced or accidental pregnancy. These conditions will lead to a lower level of bonding between mother and baby. Some mothers may also have postpartum depression which may affect the relationship. Other issues include stress about motherhood, having a traumatic birth and the influence of other family members in the raising of the baby.

Key bonding moments between mother and baby include the first movement of the fetus/foetus, ultrasound scans and the first breast feed after labour. Another moment would be when the mother notices the foetus react to her voice whilst growing in her uterus. The bond between mother and child can also be strengthened simply by touch or gaze.

(Last modified: 3rd Nov 2014)

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