Dear Patti,

In about a month, my son Michael and his wife Andrea are having their first child, a baby girl, and  I’m thrilled. I’m going to be a grandfather!

My ex-wife and I divorced when Michael was four. I had full custody and became a single father, raising him by myself until he reached adulthood. Being a father is the most fulfilling experience of my life and I’m extremely pleased that Michael will soon experience the joys of fatherhood himself.

Since the pregnancy, my son has reunited with his mother Cathy, from whom he had been estranged for many years. Cathy has grown close to Michael and Andrea, as well as to Andrea’s mother. The two mothers-in-law have become very involved in preparing for the arrival of their new grandchild by creating a beautiful nursery, which is great.

Recently Michael said that the hospital has a rule that for the first hour right after their child is born, called the golden hour, no one is allowed in to see the baby except for the parents. Both mothers-in-law are upset and have called it a ridiculous regulation. Cathy in particular is eager to make up for the time she lost with Michael by being there the minute her grandchild is born.

I empathize with Cathy’s position, and of course I can’t wait to meet the baby myself, however, I’m sure the hospital has a good reason for mandating this. Maybe if you could explain the psychology behind this rule I could help them better understand.

— Stan

Dear Stan,

Many hospitals are aware of current research concerning attachment and newborns and are creating rules to support this process. In the study of child development, one important idea is the concept of the “critical period of development,” defined as the specific time when an experience has the greatest impact on positive growth. A critical period for parent/infant attachment and bonding is in the first hour or two after birth, when most babies are in what’s called the “quiet alert state.” Attachment has been described as the affectional bond between parent and child which arises as a result of interaction. Parental bonding behavior includes cuddling, touching, kissing, talking, soothing, smiling, nurturing, rocking, and prolonged eye contact.  When the newborn is in a quiet alert state right after birth, the early responses of both parent and baby synchronize, eliciting a back and forth interaction that allows the attachment and bonding to begin.

John Bowlby, a renowned British psychiatrist, did definitive research on the phenomenon of attachment. His research says that if attachment is successfully achieved between parent and child, the child will exhibit confidence, self-reliance, maturity, and the ability to form enduring relationships throughout life. An infant who fails to attach may become an unstable adult who will have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships and being a competent parent.

Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, studied newly hatched ducklings and discovered that they attached to and followed the first object they saw. He called this process “imprinting” and discovered that there is a critical period during which it occurs. Neonatal researchers Marshall Klaus and John Kennell applied Lorenz’s discovery of imprinting to research on human bonding. They concluded that in order for development of the child to be optimal, the parents must have close contact with the infant during the first few hours of life.

Some modern hospitals support the process of attachment by establishing the golden hour, when new parents have the opportunity to form this critical bonding with their newborn child in his or her first hour of life. Although it can be frustrating for other family members who are required to wait an extra hour to meet the baby, the benefits to the infant’s development may make it worthwhile.

It might be optimal for a few family counseling sessions for all involved, as the blending of a family can be complicated and sometimes difficult, as well as rewarding and exciting. Congratulations to you and your family!


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has an office in Pasadena. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.