Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Maternal-Infant Bonding and Asthma

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Maternal-Infant Bonding and Asthma

Article excerpt


In 1976 Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, both pediatricians at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, published Maternal-Infant Bonding, a book which documented several important findings about mothers and children. They reviewed studies of research in animal behavior demonstrating that there is a biological bond that exists between a mother and her offspring. They proposed that such bonding also occurs in humans and reviewed a body of research that supported this thesis. They talked about events and situations which can interfere with or destroy human bonding. And finally, they provided suggestions for the psychological care of neonates, sick babies, sick mothers, and parents of ill children. In our clinical practice, we subsequently discovered another interesting aspect of maternal-infant bonding: a significant correlation between apparent bonding failures and the occurrence of pediatric asthma. We have developed a treatment protocol which has proven effective in ameliorating symptoms within that subset of pediatric asthma patients in which bonding failures have occurred.


Animal studies for decades have shown that there is an attachment between a mother and her offspring and that this attachment is necessary for the survival of the offspring. These studies demonstrate that if a mother is separated from her young after birth, there is a decline in maternal responsiveness to her young. Studies with a variety of mammals including rats, goats, monkeys, sheep, and hamsters, clearly show that separation has a profound effect on maternal behavior and leads to maternal rejection. In sheep for example, Poindron and associates (1979, 1980) found that if separation begins at birth and lasts four hours, 50% of ewes will reject their lambs. If the separations lasts for 12 to 24 hours, the rejection rate climbs to 75%. By contrast, if the 24 hour separation does not commence until two to four days after birth, all ewes will reaccept their lambs.

Klopfer (1971) found that maternal responsiveness in goats wanes more rapidly than in sheep. Dams will not accept kids that have been removed at birth for more than one hour. However, just five minutes of contact with their kids immediately after birth results in virtually all the young being reaccepted even after three hours of separation. Studies with monkeys are equally telling. Mothers who are separated from their infants for one hour after birth will still show a preference for them in a choice situation. If the initial separation lasts for 24 hours, the mother's preference for her neonates seems to disappear. The sooner after birth the separation occurs, the stronger the effects. As Klaus and Kennell say: "For each species there seems to be a specific length of separation that can be endured. If separation extends beyond this sensitive period, the effects on mothering behavior are often drastic and irreversible."


Klaus and Kennell (1976) propose that a maternal-infant bond also occurs in our species and that this bond is biological, psychological, and emotional. They perceive it as an intricate dance that occurs between mother and child-a complex interaction in which a strong emotional response pattern is mutually appreciated, anticipated, and reinforced. The child and the mother weave an intricate fabric, filled with behaviors that are intertwined. This bonding occurs during a sensitive period soon after birth (Emde and Robinson, 1981).

One crucial factor in this process of drawing mother and infant together appears to be the numerous hormonal changes which occur in the mother immediately postpartum. A second is that during this sensitive period the infant is in a quiet alert state, with eyes wide open and able to respond to the environment. Emde and Robinson observed that the infant is in this state for a period of 45 to 60 minutes during the first hour after birth. …

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