Imprinting is an evolutionary survival strategy for newborns to obtain nutrition and
immunological protection. Newborn mammals are genetically predisposed to orally
imprint and latch on the maternal nipple. If deprived of the maternal nipple,
newborns will latch onto a decoy (thumb, dummy etc). Latchment is the first stage
of emotional development. Avoiding decoys reduces pathologies and enhances
Mammalian imprinting is an evolutionary survival strategy to form an emotional
relationship through sucking on the maternal nipple, the nipple being a specific
stimulus feature. Imprinting is characterised by the newborn searching for and
returning to the imprinted object and by distress when the imprinted object is
One Teat Preference
The preference for a single teat has been documented in a range of mammals,
including monkeys, marmosets, pigs, goats, cats, dogs, rats, beavers, kangaroos,
opossums, koalas and hyrax. This single teat preference is imprinting behaviour.
Previous attempts to identify human imprinting explored sight, smell, taste and
hearing but overlooked the tactile sense. The single teat preference observed in
other mammals is also observed in humans. Humans, like all other mammals,
imprint upon a single object orally through the tactile sense. It is likely that a coevolutionary
process lead to the autonomous functioning of the human breast and
feedback inhibition of lactation.
A newborn who has successfully latched onto the maternal nipple will, if deprived of
the maternal nipple, seek a decoy. Decoys such as thumbs and dummies may offer
supernormal stimulus promoting displacement. Once displaced, there will be
considerable difficulty in returning latchment to the maternal nipple. The mother
may rationalise the newborn’s loss of interest in the maternal nipple as the newborn
not liking the maternal milk or having insufficient supply but these explanations
should be rejected. To avoid displacement, the mother should ensure that the
newborn has unfettered access to the maternal nipple and deny access to decoys.
There are many implications related to the use of decoys, such as dental
malocclusions, speech defects, self-sucking into adulthood and, more importantly,
breastfeeding failure. Sucking on a decoy (thumb, dummy etc) is a pathology that
occurs across the mammalian spectrum caused by deprivation of the maternal
nipple. The veterinary profession call it stereotypical behaviour or obsessive
Maternal Nipple Latchment Leads to Good Attachment
One would expect that good latchment with good oxytocin release and the
subsequent relationship benefits will lead to good attachment behaviour in the
infant thus leading to more security, better brain development and improved mental
health. These positive outcomes would undoubtedly flow onto reduced health
budgets. PhDs await researchers in this area!!
Attachment is when the baby after about six months visually recognises the mother
as a whole person. This was named by the renowned psychiatrist John Bowlby in
Failure to recognise or understand human oral tactile imprinting has resulted in
suboptimal strategies for managing the newborn and, consequently, detrimental
biological and emotional outcomes for both newborn and mother. If deprived of the
maternal nipple, newborns will latch onto a decoy (thumb, dummy etc). Avoiding
decoys reduces pathologies and enhances emotional development.
When the baby imprints on the biological nipple, the mother-carer’s love and
protection, the life preserving food and the emotional imprint are in harmony.