top of page
  • midwifecafe

Maternal Love is Vital for Normal Childhood Development

In Europe at the beginning of the 1900s, orphanages had shockingly high mortality rates caused by infections like pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis and enteritis. Some reported a 71.5% mortality rate. In an attempt to fight these high death rates, institutions increased sanitary procedures, separated infants from each other and minimised physical contact with caregivers. But, shockingly as conditions became more and more germ-free, infant mortality soared.

Why was this? It turned out that although experts at the time believed that infants were too young to have social needs, they were wrong. It seems that was lacking in the lives of these orphaned infants was in fact love and social contact. Studies have shown since that an infants' immune system shuts down when they are isolated, they become vulnerable to not only disease but also normal language, motor skills and cognitive development declines.

It is the emotional climate provided by a mother that allows a child's mind to develop normally.

Many of the existing theories centred on the idea that the earliest attachment between a mother and child was merely a means for the child to obtain food, relieve thirst and avoid pain. In 1946, René Spitz and his collaborator Katherine Wolf did a study that showed the dire consequences of maternal (emotional) deprivation. The study showed the differences between infants who were institutionally raised in clean but socially impoverished conditions and those raised in the less optimal conditions of a woman's prison with more social contact; particularly with mothers. Social contact and stimulation won out. Children raised in contact with their mothers did much better on all outcomes, including mortality and morbidity than the well-fed and clean, but isolated, infants.

They concluded that it is the emotional climate provided by a mother that allows a child's mind to develop normally.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page