Attachment in Babies – why it’s important and how to get it right!

There is an inherent need to form an attachment in all of us. Babies tend to form a strong connection with one primary caregiver when they are very young. This bond will form the foundation for all other relationships. When a baby forms a secure bond with their primary caregiver they have a firm foundation from which to explore their world. They know that their needs will be met because there is someone who has consistently been responding to them. This trust connection is a vital milestone in their first year of life. This gives them the confidence to then form attachments with other significant people.

In today’s rushed and digital era it is easy to miss opportune moments to strengthen this bond. We may be rushing from one activity to another, trying to multitask or distracted by an email as we try to work from home. This is why we have to be purposeful in order to ensure that this connection is secure.

Feeding is an opportune time where this bonding and attachment happens most naturally. As the baby feeds and gazes into their caregivers eyes, they are perfectly positioned on a sensory and neurological level to grow this attachment. Most often Mom is the one feeding her baby and thus inherently benefits more consistently from this magical attachment activity. This can leave Dad feeling less of a bond initially with his baby. Often this bond strengthens with Dad when a new sibling arrives, forcing Mom to be less available as she cares for the new baby. This gives Dad some focused opportunities to bond with his child. However, there is no need to wait for a new sibling to strengthen your baby’s attachment to significant others, you can start from the very beginning. Strong early attachment bonds have been proven to impact positively on future relationships and emotional well being.

Tips for strengthening attachment from the start:
1. skin-to-skin – make sure to spend some time daily with your baby in just their nappy and lying directly on your chest (their skin to your skin). Anyone can do this – not just Mom!

2. eye contact – be intentionally present when feeding, changing, bathing or singing to your baby. Try not to be distracted by others, screens or background noise. Try to position yourself approximately 30cm from your baby’s face as this is the best distance for them to focus on you.

3. contrasting colours – babies are able to focus on strong contrasts the easiest. You can wear make-up to contrast your eyes and lips or wear solid, bold coloured clothing which contrasts with your background.

4. co-sleeping – newborn babies do not form habits for the first few months, so co-sleeping during this time can have lovely attachment benefits without the fear of forming these sleep habits. You can co-sleep or rest with your baby during their nap time, it does not need to be all night.

5. peek-a-boo – there is a reason why babies love this game so much. It is because by playing this game they are learning that their caregiver is always there, even when baby can’t see them. In this way babies develop form constancy (knowing an object or person is there, even when it is out of sight), which helps them not to be anxious when they are separated from their caregiver for a short period of time. This trust that their caregiver will come back does wonders for bonding and attachment.

6. purposeful time – taking daily pockets of time to stop everything and focus solely on engaging with your little one (without background noise or other distractions) will grow this attachment bond. You could try cooing or imitating facial expressions (e.g. puckering lips or sticking your tongue out) and waiting for your baby to similarly respond. For the slightly older baby you could have fun with hand clapping games, nursery rhymes or action songs.

7. attachment object – many babies will attach to an object that smells familiar (like mom, dad, granny). You could try sleeping with one of their receiving blankets or a taglet. Then give this to them when they are sleepy, upset or away from you for a time. Babies sense of smell is stronger than adults’ and thus you should be careful not to overstimulate them with strong perfumes.

Just like we all have different personalities, we also all have different sensory needs and preferences. Some babies can tolerate a lot of attachment and bonding activities in their day while other babies become easily overwhelmed with too much. The best way to know what your baby needs is to watch their signs. Follow your baby’s lead and watch for cues that he has had enough. He may look away from you, yawn, hold up his hands in front of him, suck on his fingers more, start to hiccup, arch his back or give you a little frown. You don’t need to spend one long period in the day bonding with your baby, shorter more frequent periods throughout the day can be just as valuable. Happy bonding!

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