A secure attachment bond develops from your ability to respond sensitively to your baby’s cues, to successfully soothe your baby, and to manage your stress…
Fuelled by developments in the field of neuroscience, conception through to age two is now considered a critical window of opportunity for giving a baby her best possible start in life – crucial to which is at least one loving, sensitive and responsive bond with an adult caregiver, says child and adolescent psychiatrist, Astrid Berg.
“It’s this first relationship that is the building block upon which the personality of the child develops.”
It turns out that bonding by responding sensitively to your baby’s cues, offers a powerful emotional immunisation against the challenges of life.
Why? What’s happening in baby’s brain?
From birth to 18 months, connections in the brain are created at a rate of one million per second, and by age two, the brain has gained 80% of its adult weight, shares Berg.
Any life experience causes neurons to fire, and what fires together, wires together. So the neuronal connections that your baby generates through early, repeated life experiences become the building blocks of her brain circuitry.
The implications of this for bonding make sense from a neurological point of view, since the right hemisphere is the first hemisphere of the brain to develop. The right hemisphere has deep connections into the limbic and autonomic nervous systems – those that generate our fight, flight or freeze responses. This is our ‘fear centre’, but it’s also one of the areas in the brain – especially the still-developing brain of the infant – that processes emotional learning.
Why is a secure bond important?
Imagine for a moment that your baby is hungry. Her immaturity means that not only does she have no way of attending to this need, other than to cue her caregiver, but she also doesn’t have the capacity to ‘temper’ or regulate her feelings.
When you respond sensitively to your baby’s cues of hunger, she has the experience that her feelings are being managed, encoding a positive relational experience. However, if left unattended, these feelings escalate, and the high arousal, which affects heart rate and levels of stress hormones, impact on the developing brain, thereby encoding a relational expectation that is negative, explains Katharine Frost, educational psychologist and head of Ububele Umdlezane Parent-Infant Project.
Cue bonding, or what scientists term ‘attachment’ (not to be confused with attachment parenting), which refers to the impulses that govern a caregiver’s drive to comfort and protect, respond and attend to an infant.
It turns out that the way we nurture embeds a template for all future social and emotional interactions.
How to create a secure attachment bond
A secure attachment bond develops from your ability to respond sensitively to your baby’s cues, to successfully soothe your baby, and to manage your stress.
Essential aspects of a secure attachment are availability, predictability, consistency and sensitivity, and these can be expressed uniquely, depending on your personality and match with the infant, shares Frost.
Meanwhile, the opportunities for creating a secure attachment bond include a myriad of ways in which you make yourself emotionally available in a way that makes your child feel safe, secure and protected.
We can also let go of trying to be the perfect parent, reassures clinical psychologist, Corné Waldeck. Even sensitive caregivers are fully attuned to their infant’s needs only about 30 to 50% of the time, and being attuned only 30% of the time, research shows, is ‘good enough parenting’.
Benefits of bonding for your baby
Children who have a secure attachment bond with their primary caregiver, explains Waldeck, are more likely than insecurely attached children (those whose primary caregivers bond poorly with them) to:
- Be happy
- Have substantially greater emotional and mental health
- Have higher self-esteem
- Bounce back quicker from life’s setbacks
- Have better parental relationships
- Be kind and empathic
- Have greater problem solving skills.
“Almost all aspects of human life are improved with a secure attachment relationship established at the beginning of life – including aspects of physical health and cognitive development,” confirms Frost.
Benefits of bonding for parents
Research shows that mothers who develop a secure attachment bond with their babies have an increase in the brain chemicals to do with wellbeing and the experience of pleasure, explains Berg. This happens in the infant’s brain too. Quite simply, the better we bond with our babies, the greater our mutual joy and wellbeing.
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*Originally published in March 2015