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Sharp Health News

Bonding hearts

June 28, 2018

Bonding hearts

Taylor and Aaliyah Griggs are the first family to take part in the Bonding Hearts program at Sharp Chula Vista.

By the sixth week of pregnancy, a baby’s sense of smell has begun to develop. And within six to nine months of a pregnancy, studies have shown that babies can detect and memorize certain scents while in the womb, including the scent of a mother.

A person’s sense of smell is closely linked to memory throughout life, and these memories can often trigger certain emotions that provide relief. For a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), certain smells — like a mother’s — can provide comfort in more ways than one.

This is why the Women’s and Infants’ Services Department at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center has developed the Bonding Hearts program, which provides cloths to families whose baby is in the NICU to help strengthen a mother-and-baby’s bond through their unique scents.

Here’s how it works:

  • Mom places one clean fabric heart on her skin for about six to eight hours to absorb her unique scent.
  • A NICU nurse places one clean fabric heart next to baby for 12 to 24 hours to absorb baby’s scent.
  • Newly scented hearts are placed in a plastic bag that is sealed and labeled with baby’s last name used in hospital and mom’s first name.
  • Mom and baby exchange their newly scented hearts to provide comfort and continue bonding even during times of separation.
  • The NICU nurse will assist mom and family with the safest area to place the newly scented cloth near baby.

“Even our most precious babies in the NICU will be able to recognize their moms simply by the way they smell,” explains Holly Reutens-Leano, RN, MSN, at Sharp Chula Vista. “During times of separation, these bonding cloths allow mom to enjoy the wonderful scent of her baby, and baby can sleep in the comfort of mother’s special scent.”

Benefits of scented bonding cloths include:

  • Bonding between mom and baby
  • Calming effects
  • Pain relief
  • Improved appetite, feeding and weight gain
  • Improved brain development
  • Decrease in slow or shallow breathing
  • Decreased length of stay

“The heart-shaped bonding cloths are provided to any new mom who would like to take part in the program,” says Reutens-Leano. “We follow strict infection prevention guidelines to make sure each baby can safely bask in the comforting scent of mom while receiving the precise care needed during such a vulnerable time.”

For the news media: To talk with Holly Reutens-Leano about the Bonding Hearts program for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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