During the last few years a new word—‘bonding’—has become established in the vocabularies of professionals concerned with neonatal services. The same word has entered the world of popular writing for parents and has been taken up by parents themselves. Many who use this word appear to believe that it has a respectable origin within developmental psychology and that it relates to a theory and a body of experimental evidence that is well established. I want to suggest that its provenance, or, rather, that of the concept it represents, is much more uncertain than some current usage suggests. I shall point out that there may be dangers for parents and children in the well-intentioned but uncritical use of the concept. Note: Most of the early work and discussions use the term ‘mother’ and not ‘father’ or ‘parent’. It is not always clear whether authors are using the term ‘mother’ interchangeably with ‘parent’, ‘caretaker’ or ‘father’ or whether they are referring only to the female biological parent. I have tried to be consistent in using the term adopted by other authors when referring to their work and otherwise using ‘parent’ when I am referring to either or both parents and ‘mother’ or ‘father’ when I specifically mean the female or male parent.
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