Co-occupations: the Importance of the Mama + Baby Bond

Written by Contributing Writer, Victoria Briltz, OTDS

As an occupational therapy student, one of my favorite topics is co-occupations! Occupations are anything that you do in your life that occupies your time. Anything from happy hours with friends, brushing your teeth, or working – if it’s occupying your time, it’s an occupation. What’s really amazing, is that we can participate in occupations together, which then become co-occupations.

Textbook definition – co-occupations occur when people perform an occupation in a mutually responsive, physical and emotional interconnected manner.

During a co-occupation, both participants (mama and little one) are actively engaged. Maternal-infant co-occupations happen all the time when a mother is in a caregiving/maternal role.

Co-occupation in action:

  • A mother is engaging in the reciprocal occupation of breastfeeding (mother feeds, baby eats)
  • A mama is helping her baby to go to sleep (mother comforts, mother-baby complete nighttime routine, baby sleeps)
  • Even perinatal doctor appointments are a co-occupation (mother attends appointments, baby is healthy)

Per definition, co-occupations are mutually responsive in a physical and emotional manner.


When a mama is connecting emotionally with her baby, it is a reciprocal response to her child’s emotional tone (i.e., mother and baby smiling at each other). Why is this so important? Co-occupational engagement greatly influences a child’s brain and overall development.

Let’s talk maternal-fetal attachment and how it affects mamas

Maternal-fetal attachment is an emotional bond between a mother and her unborn child. Maternal-fetal attachment begins and evolves during pregnancy. It has been positively associated with the over all well-being of the mother and the fetus. The quality of the maternal-infant relationship is directly related to both the physical and emotional health of mama and baby.

As a future health care professional who plans to work with mother’s and their babies – knowledge about attachment, how to promote healthy attachment, and how to prevent a lack of attachment, is very important to me!

I have an opportunity to promote an optimal relationships between moms and babies and I take that responsibility seriously. When a insecure attachment forms between and a mother and her child, children can be significantly impacted in the way they are able to participate in every day occupations such as feeding and sleeping.

A lack of a secure attachment can also lead to children having trouble regulating their environment – this may look like a child getting overwhelmed more easily than other children, or having trouble processing every day emotions like disappointment or anger.

What does research say we can do to promote secure relationships between mama and baby?

Handling and holding babies

There are ways to hold a baby that creates more of an attachment. Any position where baby can see mama and feel securely held, can held lead to a feeling of safety and security. Communicating or singing to your baby while holding them is even better!



Everyday activities (occupations)

Bathing, dressing, diaper changes, feeding – you do to help your baby maintain their health and hygiene is a co-occupation and an opportunity to promote a secure bond.

Playing in the bath, singing a song while you change their diaper, and allowing babies the space to lead their feeding activities, can all be ways to increase your bond with your child.



Leah Foreman, OTDS, COTA/L wanted me to make sure I included a piece on communication, here is what she feels on the importance of communicating with your little one:

“Your infant knows what you are saying, and they understand more than you may know! Communicating with your baby is vital for a healthy bond and attachment. They understand your tone and they understand when you are paying attention to them and when you are not. They know how to read your facial expressions as early as 2 months. So communication matters! Tell your baby what you are doing when you are changing them. When they are crying for food, tell them you are working on it and you hear that they are hungry. When they are sad, tell them it’s okay to be sad and that you are right there with them. All of these are ways to help increase the health and security of your bond with your baby.”

Great point! Have you seen this video? It’s an amazing example!

There are so many ways to promote a healthy and secure attachment with your little one, I hope this blog provides some ideas on how to get started developing a bond with your child that will last a lifetime. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions!



Beetz, A., Winkler, N., Julius, H., UvnäS-Moberg, K., & Kotrschal, K. (2015). A Comparison of equine-assisted intervention and conventional play-based early intervention for mother–child dyads with insecure attachment. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, and Early Intervention, 8(1), 17–39.

Evans, T., Whittingham, K., Sanders, M., Colditz, P., & Boyd, R. N. (2014). Infant behavior and development: Are parenting interventions effective in improving the relationship between mothers and their preterm infants ? Infant Behavior and Development, 37(2), 131–154.

Johnson, S., & Marlow, N. (2014). Seminars in Fetal & Neonatal Medicine Growing up after extremely preterm birth : Lifespan mental health outcomes. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, 19(2), 97–104.

Karin, J., Britt-Marie, T., & Jens, S. (2003). From alienation to familiarity: experiences of mothers and fathers of preterm infants. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 43(2), 120-129. Retrieved from

Lazarus, K., & Rossouw, P. (2015). Mother ’s expectations of parenthood. The impact of prenatal expectations on self- esteem, depression, anxiety and stress post mothers’ expectations of parenthood: the impact of prenatal expectations on self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. International Journal of Neu, 3(August), 102–123.

Maas, A. J. B. M., Vreeswijk, C. M. J. M., Braeken, J., Vingerhoets, A. J. J. M., & van Bakel, H. J. A. (2014). Determinants of maternal fetal attachment in women from a community-based sample. Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology, 32(1), 5–24.

Muller–Nix, C., Forcada–Guex, M., Pierrehumbert, B., Jaunin, L., Borghini, A., & Ansermet, F. (2004). Prematurity, maternal stress and mother-child interactions. Early Human Development, 79, 145–158

Pierrehumbert, B., Nicole, A., Muller–Nix, C., Forcada–Guex, M., & Ansermet, F. (2003). Parental post-traumatic reactions after premature birth: Implications for sleeping and eating problems in the infant. Archives ofDisease in Childhood: Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 88(5), 400–404.

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Treyvaud, K., Inder, T. E., Lee, K. J., Northam, E. A., Doyle, L. W., & Anderson, P. J. (2012). Can the home environment promote resilience for children born very preterm in the context of social and medical risk ? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 112(3), 326–337.

Mobiles for Development

Why mobiles? Aren’t babies supposed to be sleeping when they’re in their cribs? Well — they’re not just for trendy nursery fashion, mobiles are actually great for early infant development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Safe Sleep Recommendations include a best practice of allowing your baby to sleep in their own bassinet or crib in the same room with you for the first 6-12 in order to reduce the risk of SIDS by 50%.

Whatever month you choose to transition your baby to their own sleeping space, placing a mobile above their crib or bassinet from the age of 2+ months can be a wonderful way to encourage the development of visual, motor, and cognitive skills.

When babies look at mobiles they develop what are called visual tracking skills (developed between 2-7 months of age) — visual tracking allows babies to follow moving objects with their eyes. Visual tracking is a very important skill as babies grow; it allows them to play, interact — and eventually, visual tracking is very important for school-aged skills.

Around 5-6 months, babies will begin coordinated reaching for objects — whether they are in tummy time or laying on their back in their crib, linking visual tracking skills with reaching helps to develop hand-eye coordination, another extremely important skill for littles to develop!

Now, if you’ve got a little one who is already sitting up in their crib or pulling to stand — you’ll want to make sure the mobile is hung from the ceiling high enough that is is out of reach. Clipping mobiles to the crib can be great in the first few months of life, but can be hazardous once the baby can reach to grab and pull on it.

I’ve also seen mamas who hang mobiles over the changing table, a great way to distract or play while completing diaper changes.

One more thing to keep in mind! Some babies may be soothed by mobiles while some may be excited by them! Some mobiles on the market these days light up, sing, spin — pay attention to how your baby interacts with the mobile. If it soothes them, the crib is a great location, if it stimulates them, maybe the changing table is a better choice! Each baby is different and you’re the expert on your little one.

These mobiles are custom-made mobiles from Atlas Rose, and they are handmade by yours truly! Check out the shop for other variations and to request your own custom mobile for your little one.