Mother's Day: The Unmistakable Bond Between A Mother And Her Child

Have you ever wondered how important the mother-child bond really is?

In the 1950's, English psychiatrist John Bowlby, and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, began intensive studies on young children's responses to loss, attachment and bonding.

Mary did extensive research into mother-infant interaction and formulated what is now known as the 'attachment theory', which states that the mother-child bond is the essential and primary force in infant development.

Instinctively, most mothers meet the needs of their babies, even when they haven't had any experience or understanding of it.

When the umbilical cord is cut, it ends the first physical attachment they have with their baby, which brought the baby a thriving condition inside the womb. But the second attachment that happens is emotional and psychological, providing a secure foundation and buffer needed to thrive in the world.

In his writings on the Science of Attachment, Bowlby mentions that behavioural and emotional attachments like reaching, clinging, sucking, and relying on their mother as a 'secure base', influence and shape the infant's overall development. Babies need their mother to help  grow the necessary skills of self-protection and intimacy. They gain assurance from her presence and use her as a source of comfort when distressed.

mom with child

New studies show that emotional play in the mother-child relationship has a positive impact. Creating joy, interest and excitement together with your baby has lifelong physical and mental health effects.

No parent is "perfect", but what makes for a secure attachment is the quality and responsiveness of your interaction with your baby; being willing to notice and understand their cues. When a baby and mother form a strong connection with each other, it helps release hormones and chemicals in the baby's brain, which encourage rapid growth connected to learning, better body development and a positive sense of who they are.

But what happens when a mother is absent?

Dr Carollee Homes from the University of California, Los Angeles,  says "Attachments are relationships that develop from interactions. We have to figure out who the caregivers are and make sure they're all competent."

70 percent of secure attachments happen with mothers, as opposed to only 50 percent with caregivers. This shows the need for high-quality child care and  better social policies that require the best possible day-care facilities.

If a child has had poor social stimulation early in life, they will lack the foundation necessary to deal with trauma and stress that can happen in everyday life.

The new science of epigenetics is discovering that our genes and our brains are affected by the lives we lead, and that a baby's brain needs love more than anything else.

Here are some tips for better bonding with your baby:

  • Take care of yourself - get enough sleep, ask for help around the house, schedule time away, breathe and take walks.
  • Respond to your baby's needs calmly, soothing and comforting them.
  • Cuddle often, making a lot of eye contact.
  • Use skin-to-skin contact, let them hear your heartbeat, and massage your baby.
  • Talk, sing, laugh, read a book and play simple games together.

Signs that show your baby is responding:

  • Makes eye contact
  • Smiles, coos, laughs
  • Holds out their arms to you
  • Crawls after you
  • Copies you
  • Cries for what they need while looking at you
  • Looks interested in something you're doing

"Infants who securely attach to their mothers, become more self-reliant toddlers and have better self-esteem. Kids who suffer losses tend to be less secure," says Dr Alan Stroufe, researcher at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.

Stroufe followed a group of 180 disadvantaged children from birth through to their teens. He found that even though their lives were unstable, if they had a secure mother-infant attachment,  they were more self-reliant, had a lower rate of mental health issues, enjoyed peer relationships,  and did well in school, especially in maths.

"Babies need a lot of love and a lot of work, and denying that would be wrong", says Stroufe. 

In summary, the most valuable gift that a child can receive is simply the love, time and support of their parent or primary caregiver.

Healthy attachment via healthy connection is key to healthy babies and ultimately healthy adults.

So as every mother in the world is celebrated on Mother's Day, let her know her unique and invaluable influence on the health and development of her child!

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