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Kate Giannetta gets in some physical bonding time with her kids Emilia and 14-month-old Finch. Part of her reason for staying home: the kids could spend more time with her.
Kate Giannetta gets in some physical bonding time with her kids Emilia and 14-month-old Finch. Part of her reason for staying home: the kids could spend more time with her.

Infants of working moms get just as many hugs Add to ...

Finch Giannetta is a squirmy, vivacious 10-month old. His mother, Kate, is constantly wrapping him in tight little hugs - if only to save him from falling on his diaper-padded bum or bonking his faux hawk-coiffed head.

She also holds him tenderly, most often when she's breastfeeding - one of the only times he's calm and quiet.

"Right now, cuddle time is 12 hours a day," says the Toronto stay-at-home mom.

She learned the importance of physical bonding in prenatal classes before her five-year-old daughter Emilia was born, she says. "That's a definite reason why I wanted to stay home, because they would have more of me."

To her surprise, an Australian study has found the babies of working mothers are getting the same amount of cuddle time as infants of stay-at-home mothers - an average of 138 minutes a day. Also equal was the amount of time babies were talked to, read to and sung to.

We're saying perhaps there is no need to feel guilty because the children are getting good input from others in that time they're in the care of others. Co-author Jennifer Baxter

Research on infant attachment and bonding finds it critical to proper child development, maintaining that bonding helps build important neural pathways in the brain. It also gives infants a sense of security and trust.

While the study, published last month by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, focused on how infants who were and were not breastfed spent their time, the researchers were amazed to see the time spent hugging and holding was equal among working and stay-at-home moms.

It challenges the notion that infants of working moms aren't getting the physical attention they need while she's away at the office, says study co-author Jennifer Baxter, a research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies in Melbourne.

The finding may also help alleviate some of that "mother's guilt."

"We're saying perhaps there is no need to feel guilty because the children are getting good input from others in that time they're in the care of others," she says.

The fact that other caregivers or fathers are the ones physically bonding with the infant while mom's away is of little consequence, says Chaya Kulkarni, director of Infant Mental Health Promotion at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

"Attachment is not exclusive," she says. "Quite often for that working mom, that baby, we hope, is also in a good place where he or she is forming good attachments."

Working moms were also found to be more efficient with their cuddle time, Dr. Baxter notes, citing research that finds working women tend to sacrifice sleep and other personal time to cuddle and interact with their children. As expected, infants who are breastfed get more cuddle time, but also they get more time with activities that are not necessarily related to breastfeeding, such as being read to, talked to and sung to.

The data comes from the first wave of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, a snapshot of 3,000 Australian infants between the ages of three and 14 months from 2004. In a series of interviews and diary reports documenting a full week day and a weekend day, the researchers explored how much time infants spend being held or cuddled, read or talked to or crying while looking at whether the babies were still breastfeeding. The study will continue to follow these children up to age five.

Researchers found working mothers who work full-time spend 83 minutes less per day with their infants than stay-at-home moms but in their absence the cuddle duty is often taken over by the dad or the grandparents.

In a Canadian work force that has grown to include more than 70 per cent of the nation's women and is now more open to paternity leaves and flexible work schedules, experts are not surprised working moms and dads go out of their way to sneak in the snuggles. A greater understanding of the importance of touch in the infant bonding process has made parents more judicious of how much time they spend away from their babies, says John Beaton, chair of the University of Guelph's department of family relations and applied nutrition.

"It does make sense to me that a working parent, mother or father, tries to be more efficient at work and tries to really cherish that time when they come home as they're trying to make up some time," he says.

But we shouldn't be surprised that stay-at-home moms aren't cuddling more.

"I think we have this image in our minds that [breastfeeding stay-at-home mothers]have so much time on their hands. I actually think [they]don't. …When you're the person staying home with the child, you have your hands full."

Ms. Kulkarni, a working mom herself, says mothers develop a sense of savvy when it comes to being close to their kids.

"I think because working moms' time is very precious, they're just very good at figuring out 'This is the time that works for me and it works for the baby and this is the time when we're least stressed,'" she says. "And when we're least stressed, our babies are least stressed."

It's less about creating rigid schedules than going with the natural flow of things.

Rebecca Bush has her cuddle time with 14-month-old Jack every morning when he wakes up. She pulls him from his crib and brings him into bed with her for a 45-minute snuggle and breastfeed before rising for work.

The Toronto civil litigation lawyer, who returned from a year-long maternity leave at the end of April, says her son gets "constant cuddles all day long," from her nanny who arrives as she goes to work and from her husband who works shifts as a firefighter and who is home in the afternoons.

But when the day comes to an end, the 33-year-old can't wait to give little Jack a hug - it's the first thing she does when she gets through the door.

"I run home from the subway, she says, "Especially if I feel like I'm coming home a little later than I would've liked."

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