Bonding, from the human perspective, is a term spanning from the beginnings of human time. Human bonding refers to the process of a close personal relationship through frequent association. The word bond derives from an older word, band, meaning something that binds or ties. The word has come to be known in interpersonal relationships, through the study of the chemistry and energy of the human body, as a unique system between two people. The study of bonding is integral to the infant massage experience as we promote presence for all the senses to become engaged.
Babies are born with all the necessary tools and instructions to attain care for themselves and become a part of their family and society. Hormonal cues are the biggest factors to providing us with all the responses needed in the bonding process. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone, a messenger released in the brain chiefly in response to social contact, but especially with skin to skin contact, creating the desires for further contact, “motherly” responses, and unique odor imprinted on the mother and baby. Oxytocin levels are higher beyond birth if the contact remains and becomes greater, causing a mother’s priorities to be altered toward the baby instead of herself. Studies have demonstrated that “the resulting high or low oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain, promoting lasting ‘security attached’ or ‘insecure’ characteristics”. Fathers, who live with the mother, show a rise in oxytocin levels toward the end of pregnancy, and with significant amounts of time in contact with the infant, oxytocin encourages him to become more involved in ongoing care.
Many other hormones are involved in the bonding process. Vasopressin is the protection hormone, playing a role in the mother and the father (in cohabitation), promoting behaviors of protection and dedication; this also makes him feel more a part of the family. Prolactin is the sleep hormone, maintaining reproductive organs and immune function, and relaxes the mother to keep her from becoming “busy”. Prolactin also causes reduction in fertility, libido, and testosterone, allowing parental attention from both caretakers. Opioids are the natural rewards hormone, morphine like chemicals, reducing pain awareness and creating feelings of elation, making the activities of infancy, for both parents and baby, more enjoyable and beneficial. Adrenaline is produced from breastfeeding and skin to skin contact, helping to maintain effects of the early bonding (relaxing sleep stuff), giving energy and alertness and pleasure of attachment. Pheromones are the “basic instinct” interpreters; they are made on the skin, and cause us to react accordingly to other human Pheromones, organizing the brain and controlling hormonal releases to adapt to the environment. Pheromones are what make baby sensitive to stress level of caretaker, separation from caregiver, and, most importantly, response to touch; coincidentally, body odors and pheromones can only be sensed when people are physically very near each other! Each one of these hormone chemicals are intricately connected and stimulate one to another.
The bonding cycle begins with need, then arousal for meeting that need, leading to gratification or broken cycle, and in turn to trust or loss of trust, and the cycle begins again. Touching, smiling, rocking, making eye contact, vocal soothing, and listening, are all part of the keys to bonding. The design between the makeup of the chemicals in the body to touch and contact is tremendous. If we teach, and by example do, what our bodies were designed to do, the bonding would take place without much awareness, and healthy touch would be normal, instead of the generations of social and emotional developmental issues as we see today. Massage is one of the best ways to make this all happen, benefiting two, then branching to the family, community, country and world.
Jeana Anderson – 12/15/2014