Bonding and the Origins of Love

Bonding by Natural Birth

(Illustration by Mari Dieumegard used with permission.)

The same hospital that offers superb medical care to those who are ill almost inevitably provides an environment for childbirth that introduces unnecessary risks, obstructs the normal physiological process, and inculcates anxiety, dependency, fear, and loss of self-control in women giving birth.

Western culture has built an entire system of care — obstetrics — around the belief a woman is not able to successfully birth on her own. The modern attitude of asserting control over and attempting to ‘manage’ a birth is not only the antithesis of trust in a woman’s body and the normalcy of childbirth, but renders impossible the experience of childbirth at its best.

There is no scientific justification for most standard hospital interventions. Routine hospital practices initiate a vicious cycle by disturbing the natural process of birthing, thereby increasing the likelihood of complications and the need for increasingly complex (and dangerous) interventions, and pain-relieving drugs. Most routine interventions, other than those used for the approximately 5% high-risk births and normally recognised long before birth, threaten the health of mother and baby.

Birth centre deliveries clearly show the superior outcome from fewer interventions, and homebirths (with a skilled birth attendant) show a lower mortality rate than uncomplicated hospital births, and far less harm to the baby.

Bonding by Being There

A child’s optimal development requires at least one parent serve as primary caregiver during the child’s pre-verbal years, ie, the first two or three years of life.

A minimum of three to six months of direct parental care is necessary in the period after birth. A child’s early relationships with her primary caregivers are particularly profound because they shape — very literally — the neurochemistry of emotion and the entire nervous system, including the brain.

Usually, if both parents are employed full-time, more than half of a child’s waking hours are spent with substitute caregivers. Early lack of a consistent caregiver causes later social consequences, since the type of attachment that forms between child and caregiver serves as a prototype for later social relationships. Babies who receive responsive and consistent care develop the sense that their world is essentially satisfying; that people around them are responsive and caring. Those who learn they cannot trust may feel that adults are replaceable, love uncertain, and human attachment a dangerous investment. This affects their ability to relate to others, learn, develop an optimistic orientation to life, and become responsible members of society.

If daycare is an absolute necessity, parents should find the very best affordable, maintain a close watch, and consistently and lovingly compensate whenever they can.

Bonding by Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding affords physiological and psychological advantages for baby, as well as mother, that formula cannot begin to approximate.

Every species of mammal formulates a milk that is specifically adapted for that species. The blue whale gives birth to enormous newborns with immense caloric needs. Because the newborn cannot hold its breath for long while suckling underwater, the mother has evolved a rich milk and powerful letdown reflex that literally pumps milk into the baby’s mouth in enormous squirts.

Nature has formulated human milk to be very low in fat, so the infant must suckle quite frequently. While baby feels secure, snuggled into mother’s breast, the breastfeeding mother produces hormones that promote a physiologic bonding between them. With bottlefeeding, convenience usually wins out — baby receives less caressing, rocking, and eye contact than the breastfed baby.

Human milk is rich in nutrients needed for brain development. Approximately 400 nutrients in breast milk are not present in artificial formulas; and the amount of fats and other nutrients in mother’s milk changes as the baby’s needs change. Maternal antibodies in breast milk help to fight infant infections and cannot be duplicated in formula. Breastfed babies are sick less often.

A baby’s breastfeeding contracts mother’s womb, causes her body to produce hormones that calm her, reduces the likelihood of her experiencing breast cancer, and correlates with less osteoporosis in later life.

Bonding by Conscious Parenting

Children are innately good, innocent, worthy, and social.

Our socially conditioned perceptions of the infant/child being innately self-centred, unsocial and uncooperative, stand in stark contrast against those of many indigenous cultures. In these cultures children are assumed to be innately good, innocent, worthy, and social in their motives; fighting, disobedience and punishments are virtually unheard of.

This alternative perspective makes parenting a pleasuring rather than a policing experience. It calls forth a style of parenting that is compassionate rather than condemning, responsive rather than reactive, cooperative rather than adversarial. Holding the distinction between a child’s essential being and her presenting behaviour, the issue is never about her being obedient or disobedient, smart or stupid; it is only about her being relatively aware or unaware, ignorant/innocent or understanding, knowing or unknowing, able or unable.

Trust and love blossoms. The child whose nurturing needs are fully met is far less likely to be disruptive when parents must focus on something other than him — and the joys of parenting are multiplied a thousand-fold.

Bonding by Co-sleeping

A child’s sleeping in the parental bed fulfils a basic human need.

Rich or poor, black or white, large or small, families all over the world sleep together and have done so since the beginning of humankind. Infants and children thrive on high levels of tactile contact. A baby’s sleeping with mother for the first few years of life is proven to contribute to an emotionally maturity. The child whose need for touch has been fully met grows into adulthood with the healthy high esteem that is prerequisite to fulfilment in life. Cuddly bears, thumb, pacifier or bottle cannot give an infant the love and security she needs. She may learn to suppress — but never erase — this need — turning instead to things instead of people for comfort.

Babies need our love and warmth by day and night. At night, with mother and baby sleeping alongside each other, baby sleeps easily, secure in the presence of mother, stirring to feed, then sleeping again. Her temperature can never be maintained as well as when she has skin-to-skin contact with another human. Constant warmth helps to keep a baby asleep and breathing regularly.

The more security you can offer your baby, the more secure she will be. Co-sleeping enhances the child’s healthy self-esteem and eventual independence.

Bonding by Maintaining Genital Integrity

Circumcision: Despite claims that babies feel no pain, studies prove that babies feel pain more sharply than adults. Pain is serious. It is not something to be dismissed, ignored, or laughed at. It does not ‘toughen’ little boys. Circumcised babies suffer from an abnormally lowered pain threshold, consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the course of every circumcision babies scream, tremble, and/or cry. Many hold their breath, defecate, or vomit. Some fall into a semi-comatose state. While this enables a baby to distance himself from his agony, it has dangerous consequences for the brain. Some infants cry for hours afterwards. Some withdraw, becoming less responsive and more irritable, others cry for extended periods and seem inconsolable.

There are no valid medical reasons for performing circumcisions. Complications range from lacerations, hemorrhage, infections, penile amputation, and urethral damage to deformed penises. There is no accurate data on the rate of complications and hospitals are not obligated to report circumcision accidents.

The foreskin is not ‘dirty’. Its immunological functions actually protect the body from harm. Circumcision does not decrease urinary tract infections and does not prevent premature ejaculation. Despite badly reported research, the intact penis in not more likely to spread sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS.

Because the foreskin is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, a circumcised male, and his partner, can never reach their full birth potential of genital pleasure.

Bonding by Babywearing

Babywearing (wearing a baby in a sling or pouch) allows parents the freedom to continue their normal daily routine while providing the richest and most desirable environment for their child.

Perhaps the most important aspect of babywearing is that it provides the somato-sensory environment (movement, closeness) needed for the essential affectional bonding between parent and infant. Babies are exposed to the post-natal continuum of stimulation to the developing brain that contributes to their ability to love and be loved later in live.

Social conditioning has led parents to believe that if a baby is held or carried too frequently they will be spoilt, clingy or demanding. Research reveals otherwise. The physical and psychological benefits associated with babywearing encourage children to feel secure and content and build a solid sense of self-esteem.

Babywearing not only promotes an intimate connection between parent and baby, it is hailed as one of the most important factors in the healthy physical, intellectual and social development of infants.

Babies worn in slings are less clingy and tend to initiate separation much earlier than babies less frequently held. It allows them to be at the centre of activity not the centre of attention, which is a wonderful environment proven to stimulate brain development and cognitive learning.

Bonding by Nurturing Sexuality

Equating knowing with doing (and information with permission) is fabrication. Research confirms that children who share a satisfying relationship with their parents and grow in an atmosphere of openness towards sexuality, grow up more slowly and more responsibly.

Comprehensive sexuality education (as contrasted with sex education) is not simply a matter of raising children to be disease-, pregnancy-, and exploitation-free. It is about supporting children’s development and growth towards healthy sexual maturity across not only the physical, but also the emotional, social, and ethical dimensions of sexual wellbeing.

As a child grows, there are countless opportunities, by example and direct instruction, to provide the keystones of a healthy sexual life: the values of love, affection, closeness, integrity, responsibility and commitment.

This education begins the moment we are born — in the perceptions, reactions and actions of others towards our body and gender. It continues moment-by-moment through countless interactions with those around us. Our children need us to share our values and to clarify and interpret the multitude of confusing and competing values and value systems in the surrounding culture.

The loving and respectful way you name and touch your infant/child’s body can teach him that all of his body parts are good, that physical closeness is both safe and wonderful, and that he is loveable. This is the single most important lesson our children can learn with respect to sex and sexuality.

With thanks to Meryn Callander, co-founder of Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children ( and co-director of Wellness Associates (
With thanks also to Hug-a-Bub


See also The Origins of Love: How Culture Shapes the Developing Brain which was published together with this article.

Published byronchild/Kindred, issue 9, March 04

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