A recent study has revealed that close contact between mothers and their premature babies in the first few hours of the infant's life results in a greater degree of bonding and helps to form a more secure attachment between parent and child. Researchers have reached similar conclusion in older studies with non-premature infants but this study marks the first time this has been reviewed in the context of premature infants. It is of particular interest as premature infants often spend more time in special care nurseries rather than in direct contact with their mother.
Babies in constant contact with their mothers typically experience a more steady body temperature and cry less than infants in cribs. When they are removed from their mother's care, these babies often begin crying, but stop when reunited. When in contact with their newborn children, mothers generally experience higher levels of oxytocin, providing a calming, sedative effect. Studies in animals have suggested that babies who stay in contact with their mothers for the first few hours after birth tend to be more social later in life.
Until recently, no studies had confirmed the importance of early contact between mothers and premature babies, as these infants often must undergo intensive care that removes them from their mothers' proximity. Research showed that even premature babies with very low birth weight are more likely to develop a secure attachment with their mothers if they are in contact within the first three hours after birth.
Researchers referred to these three hours as the sensitive period, showing that the nature of the contact between mother and child during this time has significant implications on the first year of the child's life. In fact, this sensitive period may be even more important for premature babies, as other studies have shown such babies to develop fewer behavioral disorders when they develop a secure attachment with their mothers early in life.
Source: Journal of Perinatology "Mothers seeing their VLBW infants within 3 h after birth are more likely to establish a secure attachment behavior: evidence of a sensitive period with preterm infants?" December 2010