You’ve probably never wondered how a baby knows exactly where to look when his mother holds him for the first time. Without fail, a baby always looks right into his mother’s eyes assuming he is developmentally healthy. The fact that you’ve never thought about this moment is further evidence that it is purely instinctual. Both you and your baby will share that moment together no matter what else is happening in the room. What’s more, studies show that this moment might actually serve as the foundation for a baby’s social development later in life.

When a baby gazes into his mother’s eyes for the first time immediately after birth, his right brain is starting to develop. From that point on, his attachment to his mother will lead to a set of cycles called regulation. Assuming you aren’t going to be sitting around staring into your baby’s eyes all day, there will be times when you have to leave him or her with someone else for a while. Slowly, your baby will learn that he is not infallibly attached to you, which will help him learn how to handle future relationships. Yes—the way you treat your baby in these first few years will actually determine what kind of a partner he or she will be someday. Many studies show that babies who were left alone too often are ambivalent in their future relationships whereas babies who were coddled too frequently become overly attached.

It is definitely intimidating to learn that your behavior as a new mom can shape your baby’s personality and future, but don’t worry about it too much. Just follow your natural maternal instincts. By doing so, there is a very good chance you will spend just the right amount of time with your baby. Social development is not an exact science, and there’s no handbook that can tell you when to give your baby some space down to the minute. However, by keeping a logical balance of spending time with your baby and giving him some space, you’ll do just fine.

We all like to think of ourselves as malleable, moldable beings in an ever-changing environment, so it’s always shocking to hear that part of our personality was determined in the delivery room. On the big day, your baby will stare right into your eyes, and you should follow those instincts to stare right back.

Source: Susan Calkins et al: Self-Regulator Process in Early Personality Development. Development and Psychopathology Volume 14 Issue 3 September 2002