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How our attachments are formed as newborns

This is a topic that most people have some awareness of, however, what I hear from people is that they believe it’s complicated and confusing, but they also know that somehow it’s important and plays a big but unseen part in our lives.

Our ability to form an attachment is crucial for our survival. Newborn babies are completely dependent upon those looking after them to keep them alive, but they have very little means of communication. Initially, babies can only really cry, which is why they cry for everything they need. It’s the response to the crying, and how able or willing the caregiver/parent is to deal with it and to meet the babies needs, that forms the basis for attachment.

Obviously we don’t know how our own parents/caregivers responded or reacted, we only know what we’re told. However, their responses tend to be pretty consistent throughout our life. This can make it easier to work out what that experience was like when we were babies by assessing how our caregivers respond to us, even as adults.

Babies aren’t manipulative, difficult or controlling, they are very simple. It’s what happens in the relationship that can make things difficult. Having a baby to care for is totally exhausting, scary and all-consuming. It changes every aspect of life and can be a huge strain on adult relationships. None of us know how we will cope until it actually happens, but the more we can understand about the importance of attachment and what affect our actions will have in later life, the better.

The impact of the babies crying isn’t something we can prepare for and some days caregivers have more capacity to deal with it than others, that’s just normal. If we have enough support then we stand a better chance of being tolerant, kind and relaxed. If, when the baby cries the caregiver can respond quickly, acknowledge the distress, and set about trying to work out what the baby needs and get the baby settled and happy, then two things happen. Firstly, the baby learns that their crying is met with closeness and what’s distressing them is sorted out, even if it was trial and error, they get there in the end. Secondly, the carer learns that the baby’s crying is relatively quickly stopped and they are able to identify, through trial and error, what the problem was and solve it. This creates trust between baby and caregiver, and there’s more time for interaction. Then a level of understanding, empathy and love can develop between them.

The availability of the carer and ability to soothe the baby, gives the baby the experience of someone settling their nervous system and regulating them. This is crucial and allows the bond to deepen. The baby learns that proximity is a good thing and the carer also gains confidence in regulating the baby, but also their own nervous system. When the baby calms down, so does the caregiver.

If this is the experience for the majority of times, (not every time, because it’s tough going) then we form a secure attachment. This in turn means that with this confidence, the baby and caregiver can encourage independence, growth, a sense of joy in achievements, and a feeling of safety and consistency. The experience of an open, honest relationship therefore becomes familiar, and when we start to grow up, it’s honest, open relationships that we will be drawn to.

If however, there are factors that make it difficult when the baby cries, a different attachment will form. These I will explore in this series of blogs, which you can find on our website, released weekly every Thursday. Next week, I look at one of the most common attachment styles; ambivalent attachment.

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