Attachment is defined as “an emotional bond that typically forms between infant and caregiver, usually [a] parent, that not only stimulates brain growth, but affects personality development and a lifelong ability to form stable relationships (Psychology Today).
Attachment theory is based on the concept that human beings have an intrinsic desire to be accepted by others. As human infants, our very survival depends on our caregivers’ ability to “attach” to us as we are unequipped to care for ourselves for a very, very long time. An early and significant element of attachment theory is that critical periods of embroyological development contribute to imprinting on a fetus brain. This imprinting is a direct result of what level of stress the birth mother is experiencing during pregnancy. If a mother experiences chronically high levels of stress, the fetus experiences a spike in cortisol, resulting in long-term negative consequences for the unborn child. This explains why expectant mothers are urged to decrease their stress levels during pregnancy – the quality of the parent-child relationship influences fetal, and subsequent human development. Just because someone cannot explicitly recall early-life adverse experiences, does not negate potential harm that may have occurred during crucial developmental periods.
Once born, a neonate has an opportunity to form potential attachments with others; however, for the vast majority of individuals, it is the relationship with the mother that proves to be the most important. “Secure attachments [are] significantly correlated with maternal sensitivity. Babies of sensitive mothers tend to be securely attached and vice-versa. Breastfeeding correlates with infant security” (Ainsworth, 1991, as cited in Bretherton, 1992).
The above photo of my dear friend Tara and her sweet baby girl beautifully captures vital attunement between mother and child.
One benefits from having formed a “secure” attachment in early life [to one’s caregiver], as opposed to an “insecure” attachment. Securely attached individuals generally develop the skills necessary to regulate their emotions, form pro-social behaviour, and manage their impulses. Individuals who encounter no or low maternal nurturance in early life are at substantial increased risk for depression, anxiety, suicidality, substance abuse, eating disorders, chaotic or unstable relationships, personality disorders, and a host of physical symptoms such as chronic pain and diseases including autoimmune disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic headaches, ischemic heart disease, and liver disease.
What Can Be Done to Enhance Optimal Attachment?
ATTACHMENT STYLE PARENTING: Attachment Parenting International (API) is a worldwide educational association for this style of parenting. API identifies eight principles of attachment parenting. The eight principles are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Proponents of attachment parenting believe it is important to eliminate negative thoughts and feelings about pregnancy. Doing so, they say, readies a parent for the emotionally demanding work of being a parent.
- Feed with love and respect. Breastfeeding is the ideal way to create a secure attachment, but by no means the only way to feel attunement with your child. Attempt to lower any anxiety you may be experiencing as an attempt to also lower that of your baby. Make regular eye contact. Think positive thoughts. Smile and reassure your baby.
- Respond with sensitivity. With attachment parenting, parents consider all expressions of emotions, including tantrums, as real efforts at communication. These efforts should be taken seriously and understood rather than punished or dismissed. Try to think of your baby’s difficult behaviour as a problem-solving exercise, as an attempt to minimize feelings of discomfort or annoyance.
- Use nurturing touch. Attachment parenting proponents advise maximum skin-to-skin touching. Ways to achieve that include joint baths and “baby-wearing” – carrying babies during the day in a front-facing sling.
- Engage in nighttime parenting. Attachment parenting experts advise making “co-sleeping” arrangements. With co-sleeping, an infant sleeps in the same room with parent(s)/caregiver(s) so they can feed and emotionally soothe the child during the night. Some parents practice “bed-sharing” or sleeping in the same bed with babies.
- Provide constant, loving care. Proponents of attachment parenting advise the nearly constant presence of a parent/caregiver. That includes walks, work, and night’s out. They advocate against childcare for more than 20 hours a week for babies younger than 30 months old.
- Practice positive discipline. Parents are advised to distract, redirect, and guide even the youngest of babies, and to model positive behaviour. Attachment parenting aims at understanding what a child’s negative behaviour is communicating. Parents are encouraged to work out a solution together with the child, rather than spanking or simply imposing their will upon a child.
- Strive for balance in personal and family life. Parents are encouraged to create a support network, live a healthy lifestyle, and avoid parenting burnout….try to create “balance” in your life that ensures your own wellbeing, as it will greatly benefit the wellbeing of your child.
Dr. Sears, the creator of Attachment Parenting states AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules.
Relationships are the agents of change, and the most powerful therapy is human love.
~ Bruce Perry, ChildTrauma Academy, Houston Texas
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WebMD. What is Attachment Parenting? Retrieved October 5, 2014 from www.webmd.com/parenting/what-is-attachment-parenting