Maternal Attachment and Mother-Neonate Bonding: A Critical Review
Michael E. Lamb
University of Utah
University of Göteborg
In the last decade, considerable excitement has been generated by the suggestion that events occurring in the immediate postpartum period can have a substantial influence on parental behavior and thus on subsequent child development. In a series of research reports and position papers, Klaus and Kennell ( 1976; Kennell, Voos, & Klaus, 1979; Klaus, Jerauld, Kreger, McAlpine, Steffa, & Kennell, 1972; Lozoff, Brittenham, Trause, Kennell, & Klaus, 1977), and de Chateau ( 1976b, 1977, 1980b) have argued that there exists in human mothers a sensitive period immediately after delivery during which certain experiences are more likely to produce affectionate attachments or bonds to infants than at any other time. When this "bonding" process is interrupted, warn Klaus and Kennell, various forms of aberrant parental behavior, including child abuse and neglect, are more likely to occur, and suboptimal child development is more likely. Until recently, the obstetrical practices prevalent throughout the Western world (especially the United States) involved regular mother-infant separations immediately after birth, which meant, according to Klaus and Kennell, that many dyads were placed at risk for parenting failure. The tenor of Klaus and Kennell's argument is well represented by the following excerpt from their popular book, Maternal-infant bonding ( 1976): "There is a sensitive period in the first minutes and hours of life during which it is necessary that the mother and father have close contact with their neonate for later development to be optimal [p. 14; italics added]." Earlier, Kennell, Trause, and Klaus ( 1975) wrote:
The process that takes place during the maternal sensitive period differs from imprinting in that there is not a point beyond which the formation of an attachment is precluded. This is the optimal, but not sole period for an attachment to develop. Although the process can occur at a later time, it will be more difficult and take longer to achieve [p. 88].