Infant attachment explained

Our interest in looking at other people forms an important part of what we call the infant attachment process. This is the baby’s ability to form an attachment to one or two of the people closest to them – usually their parents. By learning more about how infant attachment works, you can strengthen the bond between you and your baby.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Infant attachment: The mother-child bond can be strengthened in many ways.
The intensity of the infant attachment process is greatest during your baby’s first year.
Photo: Johnér

You are the most important person in your baby’s life and this is the basis of infant attachment. This can be seen in many ways. For a very young baby, there’s no greater joy than looking at Mom or Dad’s face.

Your baby can spend a long time just watching your eyes and your mouth. A baby finds this exciting from the moment they’re born.

Researchers know that two-hour-old infants make their first attempts to communicate by intensively studying Mom or Dad’s facial expressions and gestures, and listening to their tone of voice. 7 things that benefit your baby’s language development.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Infant attachment: Child and mother playing and communicating through facial expressions and gestures.
For a small child, there’s nothing more fun than looking at your face.
Photo: Johnér

During the first few months in your baby’s life, they find faces the most exciting thing to watch. But in the beginning, the baby reacts to virtually all faces and can often respond with a big smile. After a while, your baby will be more selective and begin to prefer the faces of their regular caregivers.

Infant attachment takes place during your baby’s first year.

Bonding with your baby from day one

Your baby’s ability to form a parent-child attachment originally served as a means of protection from the dangers of the great big world. Otherwise, the baby would have no chance of surviving alone.

The intensity of the infant attachment process is greatest during your baby’s first year, and they enjoy being close to you from day one, preferably skin-to-skin and listening to the sound of your voice.

And the infant attachment process between you and your baby begins during your baby’s first hours. It remains ongoing throughout your child’s first year of life – it’s during this time that the relationship between you and your child develops most intensively.

Simply put, it’s about your child’s learning to trust one or two people closest to them and realizing that Mom or Dad is always there to provide comfort, food or a cuddle.

A good parent-child attachment is important and strengthens your child’s self-esteem throughout their life. Your child knows they have someone caring and supportive in their life, and this knowledge will benefit them as adults, too.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Infant attachment: Child and mother snuggling, something important for strengthening infant attachment.
Carry your baby and reply to tears through touch and small talk.
Photo: Johnér

Infant attachment has a lifelong influence

“It’s vitally important for you and your baby to bond with each other. Carry your baby around and respond to their crying with touch and small talk,” advises Dr. Amanda Weiss Kelly from one of the largest university hospitals in the United States, Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

“Think of your baby’s crying as a signal that something is wrong. This is your baby’s way of trying to let you know that they need your help with something. By responding to their crying, you’re showing your baby they can depend on your presence and willingness to help.”

Babies also tend to be soothed by listening to the sound of their parent’s heartbeat and breathing. These are small everyday sounds that your baby recognizes from their time in the womb.

Think of your baby’s crying as a signal that something’s wrong.

When your baby learns that you come when they cry, and by encouraging your baby’s interests and showing that you care, the parent-child bond between you grows stronger and stronger – this is how infant attachment works.

“Babies usually like to make contact by looking at your face, so by all means carry your baby so they can look up at you from time to time,” says Dr. Kelly. “The bonding patterns your baby develops will be reflected in all of your child’s future relationships.”

By creating opportunities for bonding with your baby, you will be promoting your child’s lifelong willingness to trust other people and their belief in their own abilities. So infant attachment is more important than you might think.

Medical statements in this article

The quotes in this article come from Dr. Amanda Weiss Kelly at the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Kelly is a specialist in pediatric medicine and sports medicine.