Building Attachment

by Amanda Newhouse, LICSW, PCIT Level- I Trainer, IMH-E®

Amanda Newhouse is a licensed clinical social worker and has worked in behavioral health with children and families for over 16 years. For the past 6 years, she has placed her focus on mothers and children under 5 years old. Perhaps her most important accomplishment is being a mother of two for the past 22 years.

Loving Mother Hugging Sleeping Baby Lying In Bed Indoor, High Angle Shot.

We have all heard how critical it is for a mother to attach to her newborn in those first few hours of life and then for the first three years of the baby’s life. Attachment is so much more. Attachment begins from the moment an individual emotionally acknowledges their pregnant and those outward emotions turn inward. Prenatal attachment is linked to positive postnatal development of the child. 

It seems so simple but when women have wounds of past trauma, this can influence attachment and that relationship. When an expecting mother becomes pregnant, her world realigns. She is overcome with a multitude of emotions from excitement, fear, surprise, ambivalence, and joy. Then she begins to reflect on what type of mother she will be. Many women imagine their lives with the baby and some fear it. Many women with strained relationships with their own mothers start to internalize repeating that pattern. This can be a barrier to attachment. 

My favorite definition of attachment is by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, “a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space.” This definition identifies that sometimes attachment occurs over a period through thousands of encounters until it becomes an unconscious reflex of an individual. This means that even if it does not happen at first you still can build an attachment. It can happen over that time and space. 

Attachment for an infant is about having a need and trusting relationship that will fill that need. The need could be basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothes or emotional such as protection, a calm environment, and positive interactions.  Initial attachment comes from a caregiver meeting these basic needs. Attachment helps babies maintain physiological regulation as well as emotional regulation.  There could be complex risk factors such as a traumatic event, multiple caregivers, poverty, abuse/ neglect, witnessing violence, and substance use by a parent that would affect attachment and influence how a relationship occurs.

When these complex risk factors occur it, can providers as a barrier however it is never too late to build on to that trust and become attached. Building trust is not easy. As parents, it is our job to build that trust and to increase protective factors. Parents hold such guilt of past events or choices made. You cannot change those but you can focus on building your relationship now wherever your “now” may be. Work on building your protective factors and relationships. Stay in the now and be “present” emotionally for your baby.

Protective Factors

  • Good Prenatal Care
  • Reduce Stress
  • Increase Safety and Security
  • Find Healthy Supports
  • Emotionally Invest Yourself 

Build Relationships

  • Respond to physical and social emotional needs
  • Reflect two way communication
  • Verbalize actions and attention
  • Provide a routine
  • Anticipate power struggles
  • Set clear limits
  • Stay calm when the baby is upset
  • Take an adult time out
  • Work on recovery
  • Cuddle, rock, and kiss the baby (sensory nourishment)
  • Acknowledge and express emotions (manage emotional overflows)

Secure attachments are important and do not just happen. They help to build better brains, self reliance, efficacy and persistence in task completion, cooperation with others, empathy, and social competence. Secure attachments take a lot but they are so worth the work. 

Sources

Webster-Stratton, Carolyn. (2011). Incredible Babies. Washington: Incredible years Inc.

Zeanah, Charles. (2019). Handbook of Infant Mental Health Fourth Edition. The Guilford Press.

Gross, Dana. (2008). Infancy, Development from birth to 3. Pearson Education, Inc. 

https://www.nctsn.org/

https://www.zerotothree.org/

Quick Tip:

Sign up for a Home Visiting Program! These programs are so helpful to new moms! They can help get you things that you need and teach you tricks on being a new mom and raising your baby. These programs will come right to your home and don’t worry, they do not judge you about ANYTHING and are just there for support! Click here to sign up

Get Connected

Being a new mom is much easier, when you have a group of other new moms who you can reach out to with questions and for support!

You are not alone!

4th Trimester Project

Did you know that there is a Facebook group for Mothers on MAT?

IMPACT does not participate or endorse this group and is only sharing as a resource