Building a Secure Attachment with your Baby

How to focus Mom’s Attention on Building a Secure Attachment

As a postpartum home visitor for a local non-profit, I provide a series of three visits for all moms who are discharged from the hospital with their newborn. I never know what I’ll find when I visit a home with a baby less than 7 days old. Some Moms are calm and relaxed; others have anxiety about doing everything right. Some Moms may be concerned about how well their baby is feeding or recovering from a difficult birth. I have received feedback from many of these moms about why my visits were so helpful in the first thirty days after they give birth. Here’s what I’ve found.

After calmly taking an inventory of their questions and concerns, I sit and take a few deep breaths and observe Mom and her baby, as well as her support system that may (or may not) be present. I find at least one specific thing to make a positive comment on; “Your baby is very calm in your arms.” “You really want to know what’s best for your baby.” “You have written down your questions so you can get more information.” “Your husband is here with you to make sure you feel better.” You’ll see her gaining trust in you and feeling a bit of relief.

Then, I mention several things on this list as it pertains to improving feedings, improving sleep, and the benefits of a secure attachment with her baby.

What is a secure attachment?

You are the most important person to your baby.  Your baby’s brain will develop rapidly in the first two years and continue to develop throughout life. Your child’s relationship with you is one thing that impacts the way s/he develops. In a loving, safe relationship with you, your baby experiences important brain activity. Additionally, from these positive early life experiences, your child will have an eagerness to explore, healthy coping skills, and feelings of both trust and empathy for others.

Your baby needs you to protect her, feed her, and comfort her. Newborns feel safe and secure when they are in your arms or held close to your body in a loving way. Most parents and babies relax more when there is comfort, connection, and security.

A secure attachment is when parents are capable of interpreting their baby’s language (cues, movements, behavior, and eventually words) and can respond with compassion. Of course, no parent is perfect, but a focused effort to meet your baby’s needs will have long lasting effects.

How do I create a secure attachment with my baby?

  • Hold and cuddle your baby. Touch is reassuring to your baby and provides a feeling of safety. Skin to skin helps both parents and baby feel calm and relaxed.
  • Make eye contact. Gaze into your baby’s eyes when feeding, playing, and changing diapers; share facial expressions of joy and excitement.
  • Watch and listen to your baby. Try to notice her early cues such as back arching, hand sucking, and grunting so you can quickly meet her needs and avoid excessive crying.
  • Comfort your baby every time she cries. When your baby cries, it is a signal that she needs you for food, comfort, or reassurance.
  • Speak in a warm, soothing tone of voice. Connect with your baby by smiling, singing, storytelling, or talking in a sweet, comforting voice.
  • Maintain realistic expectations of your baby. Your baby cannot soothe himself or verbally tell you his needs until he is older than one year. Until then, he will completely rely on you to help him.
  • Practice being fully present. Give your baby your full attention periodically throughout the day. This may mean being free of distractions such as cell phones and television.
  • Practice being self-aware. Notice when you are tired, anxious, angry, or frustrated, and take care of yourself. You are better able to meet your baby’s needs when you are aware of your own needs.

Interpreting Baby’s Language

Notice how your baby already has ways of communicating with you. Babies have “cues” to let you know what they need. The more you can tune into your baby’s cues, the easier it is to meet his needs.

For example: How do you know when your baby is hungry? Tired? Uncomfortable? Wants to be held? You can help Mom realize she’s already been interpreting cues and knows a lot about what her baby needs.

Responding with Compassion

  • Touch: Newborns love gentle touch, rocking, cuddling, and comfort.
  • Skin to skin: Lay baby on your bare chest with just her diaper on.
  • She is able to regulate her breathing and temperature, which allow her to sleep for longer periods of time.
  • Infant massage: When using lotion or oil gently rub her arms, legs, belly, back, and chest.
  • Wear your baby: Put your baby in a carrier and keep her close.
  • Talk, sing, and read to your baby: When he hears your voice, it is soothing and comforting.

The Benefits of a Healthy Attachment

  • Important early brain development that impacts your baby’s ability to learn
  • Parents develops an awareness to their baby’s needs (such as sleep, food, and play)
  • The baby develops trust in his parents
  • The baby is eager to learn, explore, and experience the world around him
  • Parents experience more self-confidence and emotional regulation

Often you’ll have Moms tell you this feels right to them. Their intuition as a Mother may be telling her to do all these things already, but she may be confused as relatives may say, “You’ll spoil your baby!” Help increase her confidence; she knows what’s best for her baby. She’ll feel better about herself and when her partner also hears about secure attachment, he’ll be more supportive and involved in developing his own attachment with the baby.

Abby Bordner

CLD, CPD, CLE®, ICCE, Labor Doula Faculty

Abby Bordner started her career in Women’s Health. She began at Planned Parenthood in Portland, OR where she was trained as a health counselor for contraception and HIV/AIDS. She had her first child in 1999, when she began her interest in birth work. She pursued her doula certification, shortly after became a childbirth educator and eventually a lactation educator, as well. She teaches many educational workshops related to birth and parenting. She started an online parent education and personal support coaching business called Relationship Based Parenting. Her passion is working with families as a health and wellness educator to build skills that support compassionate families and all the important dynamics within it. She has two children and lives in Santa Fe, NM.

Copyright CAPPA 2015

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