Posted by: Admin | May 10, 2011

My thoughts on imprinting!

Do you know what imprinting is? I didn’t either until a professor talked about it during one of my anthropology university courses. He talked about the need for animals to “imprint” and how it was also a need in the human newborn.  It seems that right after birth, babies (whether animal or human!) experience a “critical period” where everything that relates to their instinct or their five senses (smelling, touching, seeing, hearing and tasting) will be attuned to a higher degree than at any other time in their life.

For example, baby birds will follow whatever they see when they first hatch from the egg. If it is a farmer’s boots, so be it! They will follow that farmer around as if he were their mother. Researchers have observed this amongst almost all animals, and breeders have used this knowledge to allow them to carry out specific interventions that would otherwise be refused by animals. For instance, a foal will be handled by humans right after his birth to make sure he will accept human presence and touch. The breeder will touch him with plastic gloves so he becomes used to that touch, and he will continue to touch the foal’s body wherever giving him care, all throughout his domesticated life.

In human babies, the imprinting is even more intense. The baby will know his mother’s smell and will respond to her voice and her touch. As a result, he needs to “imprint” with his mother, not with any nurse, doctor or family member or friend. Ideally, immediately after birth the baby will be placed naked on his mother’s naked body (they can be both covered if necessary) and left like this until he is ready to breastfeed. When he does latch on to the breast, which usually happens after an hour or so, he needs to be left with his mother at least until he falls asleep, but it would be best for them to remain together at all times. With this first breastfeeding, he “imprints” how to suck well at the breast. When he then falls asleep, he can doze for a long time (up to 24 hours!), which is normal. There is really no need to bathe him right away after birth, nor any need to weigh him, and usually whatever medical care he needs can easily be provided while he is on his mother.

When the baby is left with his mother right after birth, he is most likely to successfully stabilize all his vital signs and body functions. He keeps his body warm with his mother’s body heat, and he is calmed simply by hearing and feeling her heart beat through her chest. He is comforted by the sound of her voice and by her touch. No one can do this for him but his mother!

Dr Nils Bergman is an expert is mother and baby skin-to-skin contact. Listen to him speak about imprinting:


  1. It is a very interesting subject and as funny as it sounds, I think people knew about this for a really long time. I was reading this one book that has to do with a mother and her child, ages ago, and even then they knew that the first contact had to be a skin-to-skin contact with the mother.. And I am talking back in the days where they didn’t even have hospitals or any research to prove this. It was simply a “natural” gesture the mother would have. I believe it is actually part of us, that we are born with that kind of insight.. it is rather all the doctors and nurses in the hospital when you give birth that present to you the complete oposite..
    When I gave birth to my son, my mother ( the author of these posts) was there and she can testify of it happening. I think they probably asked 5 to 6 times, in the same day, to bathe my son. I mean.. I JUST gave birth to him, I am trying to have this skin-to-skin contact with him and they are totally harassing me so they can bathe my son.. They even told me: “Listen we will take him, clean him up and meanwhile you can rest” I am thinking: ” Are you insane! I am not letting you leave alone with my son !” And they were persistent.. They wanted to bathe him, weight him and all kinds of unecessary things only a few hours after he was born.. One nurse even told me that she will have to wear gloves to touch him if I don’t take him a bath right away. That’s fine, wear gloves, but don’t say it so rudly ! I was extremely uneasy at the hospital, it was probably the longest 2 days of my life to be obligated to stay there. If I could go back in time I wish I could have left the hospital right away and not stay for the 48 hours. I was only able to enjoy my newborn baby the moment I got home because my whole stay was unpleasant, with loads of persistent nurses, extremely incompetent at their jobs and constantly contradicting themselves. I do not by any means try to put all of them in the same basket, and it is probably not their faults seeing they get training from the hospital and this is what their are being told to do. But I do understand where people somewhat lose their ” natural ” insight with the first few hours of their newborns, it is not their faults, it is what they get told at the hospital by people we trust and put not only our lives and health safety in their hands but also our children’s.

    Thank you mom again for a very interesting post, I wish I had more and more time to read all of them as I would but my little 2 year old monster keeps me quite busy 🙂
    Nathan and I send our love !

  2. Interesting–both of my kids latched in less than two minutes after birth and stayed there for a full hour until they fell asleep with dad sitting with his arms around both of us. It was only then that the hospital moved us to the postpartum unit.

    • Hello!

      You are a very lucky mother to have experienced this! Some babies do latch on very quickly, mostly if they have not received any medication during labor. Research mentions that, on average, babies latch on after 55 minutes, but you have babies that latch on before and after that time. If all mothers and babies could live the postpartum period the way you have lived it, it would be wonderful.

      Thank you for reading me!
      Dany 🙂

  3. I am currently studying a diploma in child psychology, and one of my assignments is to explain imprinting. I have been given quite a limited explanation of it, based on one theory about goslings. Do you have any links to any information, and relevant studies that I could use please? (I hope thats okay to ask!) I really want to find something that talks about imprinting in mammals born vaginally rather than hatched from an egg, so I can draw up a better conclusion. Fab blog!

    • I once did a lot of research on the subject in preparation for a one day training on the subject. I do have some references. Please give me your e-mail and I will contact you privately. Do not worry, I will not publish the post where you give me your e-mail. 🙂

      Thanks for reading me!


  4. Oh so I don’t feel bad enough that my son was taken immediately from me and the put in NICU for the first 5 days of his life. Now I have to know that I let him “imprint’ on random drs and nurses. What a load of claptrap.

    • Hello!

      I am so sorry you have had such a bad experience following the birth of your son. It sounds similar to my experience with my first-born son. When we talk about skin-to-skin contact and imprinting, we assume the baby is born at term and is healthy. What is most important is that he is taken care of if he needs medical help!
      I cannot change what research and experts are saying about the subject but I can assure you that the caressing, touching, loving and all the care you gave your son as soon as you could hold him are what matters the most!!! Like you, I was not aware of this when I delivered my three first children, but if I were to deliver prematurely now, I would make sure to ask for kangarou care as soon as my baby is stable enough. Many hospitals now implement this practice, but there is still not enough of them offering it.
      You are not alone in having experienced an early separation from your child! When this happens, some experts recommend “simulating” a birth once your baby is well enough for you to hold him. It consist in simply taking a bath with your baby to reenact a normal birth. It is a very gentle way to reconnect with your baby.



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