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Eye-to-eye Confirmation of the Mother-infant Love Bond-Part 1

The various interactions using all five senses that are exchanged between mother and newborn are all important factors and play a key role in the development of the relationships between mother and child. In this case, what role does the sense of vision play in the development of the bond? In comparison to the other senses, vision is said to be sensitive to distance and direction.

Cuddled in the Left Breast

When a newborn is held by the mother, the mother scoops him/her up to her left breast, holds the baby face to face and looks into his/her eyes. When this happens, the mother usually looks into the baby's eyes and gazes into them, which gives the mother a special sense of connection and deep emotion.

When the mother and infant look into each other's eyes and communicate in such a way, pediatricians believe this is a special and important factor in the crystallization of the mother-infant interaction process. This key factor, in other words, the essential piece of this interaction puzzle in making a complete picture of the bonding of mother and infant is much more prominent than the bonding process that is observed in other mammals. This is because vision is so much more advanced in humans. The eyelids of the newborn are surprisingly puffy just after the birth. Many times we often wonder if the infant is able to open his/her own eyes. In the dark comfort of the womb, floating in the warm amniotic fluid, the infant listens to the soft and reassuring heartbeat of the mother. From this quiet and comfortable world, the fetus takes a first breath and is introduced into the outside world and rudely awakened by the dazzling light of the world. It almost seems to me that the eyelid is purposely puffy, to protect the newborn's eyes from this intrusive bright light.

However, in no time at all, the baby begins to open his/her eyes. This action is performed only by the will of the newborn, as it is extremely difficult to try and pry open the newborn's eyes with our fingers. When the baby finally opens his/her eyes, s/he eventually begins to look around, almost as though s/he is searching for something. If we take a realistic break now, I'd like to introduce a new word, "information seeker." Newborns, as soon as they are born, are instinctually seeking information and are full of curiosity. Then, not even a week later, the puffiness of their eyelids is gone, and the baby opens his/ her eyes widely.

Information through the Eyes

The mother who hugs her newborn is naturally inclined to concentrate on the baby's eyes. Then, she begins to hope that the newborn will open his/her eyes at the earliest moment and is filled with anxious hope. The mother softly whispers to the baby to open his/her eyes, and when she is able to see even a glimpse of the pupils, she is overjoyed (with also the assurance that her baby has healthy eyes).

On the other hand, the shock experienced by the mother when she learns her baby cannot see is incredibly great. In addition, mothers of blind children often get a sense of failure that they are not doing a good job in raising their child. This is not due to the fact that they are not rearing the child well, but rather to the fact that the mothers cannot feel the comfort relationship with their children.

The mother-infant interaction built upon the eye-to-eye contact overrides the physical or organic interaction. This eye-to-eye contact is powerful beyond anything we can imagine.

There is a proverb that "The eyes speak more than the mouth." In terms of the mother-infant relationship, this proverb is extraordinarily appropriate. In addition, there are many expressions using the word eye, such as "the twinkle in one's eyes," "the glare of one's eyes," "the whites of one's eyes", "the rolling of one's eyes," and the list goes on.

Newborns, even if it's the mother's face they are looking at, seem not to have an idea that there can be meaning found there. However, the newborns strangely focus on the eyes. Newborns between three and five weeks old, they look and search around the mother's face about twenty percent of their waking hours.

By the way, infants over seven weeks old do not look at the face, but spend ninety percent or more of their time looking into the eyes. Even when the adult is talking, they do not look at the mouth but search for the eyes. Furthermore, they look into the eyes, not because the eyes are moving, but just because they are eyes. We can observe this behavior more clearly when we present a picture of a face with no eyes to a baby, and the baby does not respond, but when eyes are drawn into the same picture, the baby shows a strong interest in the picture.

I believe that when the baby looks into the eyes of the mother while she is talking, the baby is actually giving meaning to each word the mother speaks to him/her.

There are some pediatricians who believe that the reason why the breasts of human females are more prominent than those of other mammals is so that the baby can concentrate on the eye-to-eye contact without having to think about how to get his/her milk, since the position of the body is so proper to do so.

Even between adults and between lovers, between dogs and their masters, the eyes speak more than words and so much information can be exchanged with just a glance or a gaze. Then, there is a whole range of emotions that are drawn out through these visual contacts and give hints about further interactions with the other person or reactions to certain situations. The eyes are the windows to the heart.

Kobayashi, Noboru (1981). "Me to me de tashikameru haha to ko no ai - 1"(written in Japanese). Tokyo: Child Research Net. Retrieved June 1, 2002, from the World Wide Web:
http://www.crn.or.jp/LIBRARY/KOBY/MIRAI/cbs0092.html
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