Babies and their parents need to get to know each other.
As parents respond affectionately to their babies needs, a responsive,
trusting relationship develops in which they gain confidence that their
parents will protect them and meet their needs. This relationship is referred
to as secure attachment. Attachment relationships are specific to an individual
- infants can become attached to more than one person and each relationship
evolves independently (69). The experience of successful attachment as
an infant is an important base on which to build future emotional, cognitive
and social well-being (69, 70).
|Attachment is "an active, affectionate,
reciprocal relationship specific to two people."
Parents are influenced by many factors as they build this
- the extent to which they want to repeat or change
their own experience of being parented
- their own personalities
- their conscious or unconscious perceptions of their
own experience of being parented
- their current life circumstances, particularly intimate
relationships that support or undermine their self-esteem and competence
(197) and levels of stress (e.g., work/family tensions).
Babies are also active partners in these relationships. Babies are born
with individual physical differences and they each respond differently
to their environments. These unique characteristics affect the parents
experiences of their babies and can in turn affect other aspects of their
relationships. However, studies consistently show that the mother has
a much stronger influence on the relationship than the baby (197).
Influences on the positive outcome:
Securely attached to parents and caregivers
||Sensitive attunement and involvement of
parents and caregivers
||Emotional health of parents
||Parents beliefs and expectations
These influences are also listed in the drop-down menu above. Please use
this menu to navigate within this ppage.
Sensitive attunement and involvement of parents and caregivers
Close contact and responsiveness between parents and their
babies help build positive patterns of interaction between them. In the
first few months, sensitive parents learn to recognize and to respond
effectively to their babys non-verbal cues. When infants are uncomfortable,
hungry, or distressed they cry, make other noises and move in certain
ways. Parents observe how their baby responds to their care and become
attuned to the babys body language. Parents who are actively involved
with their baby increase their sensitivity and come to understand the
babys cues. They are in tune with the babys signals and know
how to provide comfort and amusement.
In the first months, the parent-infant relationship is built mainly around
bodily functions - feeding and sleeping. At about two months infants become
more responsive and increasingly respond to smiling and other forms of
social interaction (224). As they get older, they want to play, to touch,
to feel and to explore things in their environment. Responsive parents
observe and learn which activities and toys interest their child. Children
look to their parents for stimulation, encouragement and support as they
explore the world around them and learn new activities.
Between seven and nine months, infants seem to identify more strongly
with some adults in their world. They begin to focus their attachment
on a small number of caregivers and become more wary of strangers (224).
The adults with whom they have caring, supportive relationships are a
source of comfort and security and they measure their new experiences
against these relationships. As they use their increasing mobility to
explore the world around them, children seem to draw on the confidence
they have of being loved and protected in these secure relationships (45).
- Families can prepare for the change a new baby will
bring to the household by discussing what changes are likely, how they
will feel about these changes, and how they will support one another
as they adapt to having a new baby. An excellent book on this is When
Couples Become Parents by Cowan and Cowan, Basic Books, 1992
- The physical closeness of breastfeeding helps mothers
bond with their infants and get to know them.
- Relaxed parents are more able to be involved with
their babies. Families can develop strategies to support one another
and take the time needed to get to know the baby.
- Talk about the fathers role and how he can
become involved with the baby.
- Emotional support of the mother and childcare support
by the father have been shown to have a positive influence on the care
mothers provide for their babies (45).
- Community initiatives that help parents to understand
the needs of their babies and to feel comfortable and confident caring
for their babies help them to establish warm and responsive relationships.
While some parents actively seek information and opportunities to learn
about parenting new infants, seeking help beyond immediate friends and
family is not the norm in our society. The process of reaching out to
new parents is important.
- Family resource centres exist in many communities.
They vary in the range of supports they provide, but are staffed by
people who are warm and accepting; who can help answer questions asked
by new parents; and who model good parenting behaviours themselves.
Their goal is to build a respectful relationship with parents reinforcing
and building on existing strengths. The range of services these centres
offer may include a drop-in centre, scheduled events for parents to
get together, and structured programs for infants and parents. They
provide supportive, unthreatening, accessible, and informative services
- Homevisiting programs are designed to provide support
and develop the confidence and competence of parents. Various studies
have shown that well designed homevisiting programs can improve the
physical, social and emotional well-being of families (41). Homevisiting
is most often used with families who have the greatest need for support
such as young, single mothers, poor families, and families who may not
regularly access other community services. Home visitors need to be
well trained and supported. Their successful interaction with the family
depends on their ability to establish a positive, trusting relationship
with them (22,41,87,148).
- Infant stimulation programs provide opportunities
for caregivers to get together with other caregivers and their babies,
and learn new skills from a trained leader.
- There are few opportunities for fathers to discuss
their fathering role and to learn about infant development and care.
One example of a program trying to meet this need is Dads Canada.
Emotional health of parents and caregivers
There have been many studies of how a mothers emotional
health affects her capacity to develop a secure relationship to her infant,
although the relationship is still not well understood.
Emotionally healthy parents are more likely to be capable of responding
warmly to the needs of their babies and ensuring the development of positive,
caring and involved relationships with their babies. Parents who have
serious emotional health problems will have more difficulty becoming sensitively
attuned with their infants. Depending on how serious the problems are
and how long they last will influence the development of their children
(124, 190). A supportive, stable relationship with a partner may help
buffer a baby from the effect of the other parent's emotional problems.
Maternal depression has been consistently identified as a risk for poor
outcomes for infants, although not all depressed mothers are unsuccessful
in forming secure attachments with their babies. Recent studies suggest
that depression can result in many of the factors which are key to building
secure attachment being absent (224, 114).
Babies' attachments to adults are relationship-specific. In situations
where the primary care giver does not have the capacity for the warm involvement
with the infant that is needed for secure attachment, other family members
can provide the nurturing needed for healthy development (224).
- Developing screening processes that identify mothers
with attachment problems is the first step in providing support or additional
professional assistance if it is needed.
- Homevisiting provides a way to reach out to mothers who
are isolated. Trained home visitors are in a position to observe difficulties
mothers may be experiencing with their infants. They can provide immediate
support, help them learn to respond positively to their infants, or
refer them to other community services that could be helpful (96).
Parents' beliefs and expectations
Parents develop expectations about their children, even before they are
born. These expectations are described as their "working model of
the child." This working model shapes how they perceive, interpret
and experience their infants. Most parents have some flexibility and as
they discover their babies, they adjust their expectations to correspond
with their needs (223, 14).
For other parents, the expectations they have of the infant during the
pregnancy do not change. They seem to colour the parent-child experience
and in fact predict the kind of attachment the infant has more than a
year later (223, 14).
- Mothers and fathers need to discuss their feelings
and expectations related to the new baby.
- Provide opportunities to explore their feelings and expectations
about a new baby and to deal with aspects of their own thoughts and
experiences that may inhibit their forming a positive attachment to
Aware of any
innovative programs, legislation or initiatives which
are relevant to this positive outcome?
This is your chance to let us know!
We are always on the
lookout for specific strategies proven to be successful
(or showing promise), which illustrate work done in
this area. After reading this section of the site, click
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